One of the top “complaints” I get from clients and people I meet at events is that they have difficult people in their lives that make it hard for them to really maximize their happiness and reach their goals. Just last week I had at least 10 people approach me at events and describe the “offenders” they want to fix. A nightmare boss. A negative co-worker. A constantly-complaining friend. An unsupportive partner. And while we all hope that no one is intentionally out to make another person’s life miserable, it’s reality that there are roadblocks to communication when people come at life from different perspectives.
If you are stuck in a situation dealing with a difficult person, there are a few things you can do to help bridge the gap. You can never truly “fix” a person so don’t set out for perfection – and remember, it’s all about experimentation. You will have to try different approaches until you find the one that most resonates with you AND the other person. Just because you value healthy eating, starting your own business or managing stress doesn’t mean they do. Try to eliminate the idea of them being wrong and you being right.
Everyone values different things. Everyone has grown up with different life experiences to frame their current behaviors. Everyone has different moral boundaries. Everyone has been educated to different levels and has different intellectual capabilities. We all value money differently. Plus a million other dynamics that impact how we communicate. These differing experiences lead to challenges in relationships which overflow into other areas of our lives. Oh – and as hard as it is to admit, YOU have been a difficult person a time or two so step back and be sure you’re looking at your situation with full perspective.
What Exactly Do You Want?
Wouldn’t it be nice if everyone were happy all the time? You didn’t have to deal with a crabby colleague or get into an argument with your nagging significant other. There were no short-tempered bosses or cranky sales clerks. And of course this would mean YOU would be happy too right? NOT!
You can choose to be happy and go after your goals despite the moods and behaviors of others. You have free will that isn’t defined by other people’s expectations of you. And yet, we are still impacted by those around us and allow them to drag us down with them sometimes.
The first step is to clearly identify what YOU want for yourself AND what you want from the other person. Once you know the starting point and end point for both of you, you can begin to close those gaps by trying different approaches to shift BOTH of your behaviors.
How to Shift Behavior
Great so closing the gaps is one thing, but how do you actually DO it? It’s not like you can walk up to the other person and say “hey, you know that thing you do? Yah – it would be great if you would stop.” It might work for some, but pretty sure that wouldn’t go over very well with most. Here are five approaches you can use to help your difficult person be more positive and change your own attitude in the process. Remember – you will have to experiment until you find the right solution so don’t expect an overnight success.
- Model Behavior: People naturally mirror the behavior of those around them. If you want a difficult person to act a different way, you try acting a different way too. The old ways of interacting are obviously not working so change your ways and they may naturally shift theirs too.
- Stay Positive: That old saying “kill ’em with kindness” really does work wonders if you stay consistent. Plus it will keep your own mood elevated so you don’t spin into negativity too. And if you have to, just fake it ’til you make it. You may be seething inside when around this person, but put on a happy face and take the high road. Stick to your own goals and smile.
- Listen: Sometimes we get so worked up by a difficult person that we get blinded to what is really going on. Really listen to them both when you are interacting with each other and when they are interacting with others. Is it possible there is something else going on with them that is driving their behaviors and stress? Does any particular thing set them off? Be aware and really pay attention to them – all of them not just the annoying parts.
- Talk: I said a few paragraphs ago that suggesting directly that the other person change probably won’t work, but talking and staying connected in other ways can make a big difference in the quality of relationships. Find things you have in common like hobbies, kids, dreams and even challenges and use those common bonds to create a more positive relationship.
- Let It Go: Yep – I said it. Let it go! I know, I know – that’s easier said than done. But if you look at your goals and their goals and you’ve tried other ways of closing your gaps, sometimes the only option is to just accept the situation as reality and let it go. This means you may have to endure more of the person’s negativity, but you have chosen to move ahead happily and positively DESPITE their attitude. You CHOOSE to continue going after your goals and not let their behaviors impact your forward momentum.
There are many other approaches you can experiment with as you work on bridging the gaps with a difficult person. The key is to remain positive in your own life and goals while you work on shifting their perspective.