What you say to yourself matters as much as what you say to someone else.
We all have worked with a difficult person, and for some of us, we’re working with a whole bunch of them. For you, it could be the fierce individualist who doesn’t seem to want to be a team player, or the boss who wears his stress all over his face, or the direct report who gives you one word responses to your questions. But no matter what the behavior is that’s tough (or seemingly impossible) to tolerate, we need to develop strategies that allow us to get the work done without blowing up, silently seething, or throwing in the towel.
Of course, there are plenty of tips, tools and techniques on how to change the way we speak to others to try to get a more positive, productive outcome. But what about how we speak to ourselves when preparing to deal with a difficult person?
Our mindsets drive our behaviors, and the way we think about a challenging situation (especially if that “situation” looks a lot like Doug in Accounting) directly impacts the choices we make about what we do and don’t do. If the messages we tell ourselves sound like, “This conversation is going to be futile” or “Doug’s an idiot,” we will behave accordingly. We will be more likely to throw up our hands before we’ve even begun, or talk to Doug (sorry to keep picking on you, Doug) as if he is stupid, which will only reinforce our perspective, and probably make Doug extra mad.
So before we talk to anyone else, we need to talk to ourselves. Here are three “pep talks” to give to yourself to help you get into a mindset that will make dealing with a difficult person more productive, or at the very least, less destructive.
Pep Talk 1: Don’t Take the Bait
“I will not be triggered. I have all of the resources I need to stay calm, be thoughtful, and not react when someone else is acting out. If I take the bait, I become a part of the problem rather than part of the solution. I will remember to breathe, be mindful of my body language, listen for clarity rather than judgment, and ask for time to think about my responses. And I will keep reminding myself, ‘I will not be triggered.'”
Pep Talk 2: Be Compassionate and Curious
“Just like me, this person wants to be happy. Just like me, this person wants to be safe. Just like me, this person wants to be respected. I’m curious about which of these needs — or others — aren’t getting met. Something or someone taught her to behave this way to try to get what she wanted. I wonder what or who it was? I also know that, as much as I can’t stand her, she has family and friends who love her. What do they appreciate about her that I’m not seeing? How can I stretch my perception of her to include even a little bit of what others admire about her? And if I’m willing to believe that people come into our lives for a reason, maybe the reason she is in my life is to teach me something. What can I learn from this?”
Pep Talk 3: Don’t Try to Fix It — Accept It
“There are just some people I’m not going to get along with. This is one of those people. I don’t need to fix it — or fix him. I need to fix my expectations that I’ll have friendly, easy and productive relationships with everyone. Trying to fix someone else rarely, if ever, works. My time and energy aren’t unlimited resources. I’m going to put them to better use than going down the path of trying to fix someone. Accepting him for who he is, and that this relationship “it is what it is” frees me up to invest in other relationships that matter more, and that have a greater likelihood of payoff.”