Dealing with Difficult People and Situations

Dealing with Difficult People and Situations

When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves. Viktor Frankl

Often times the challenge in dealing with difficult people isn’t so much them, but us. Michael Jackson said it well, “I’m looking at the man in the mirror, I’m asking him to change his ways” Now this may sound counter-intuitive, but let me show you what I mean.

Recently, my partner and I had a difficult person to deal with. We had a disagreement about a situation with him where we were living. They believed they were right, we knew legally and factually that we were. But unfortunately, we had an impasse.

In our minds at least, we’d been thoughtful, rational, calm and considerate about the situation. We’d talked about it and put our case forward quite calmly and patiently. Yet still the person wouldn’t back concede any ground. Sadly, as some of these situations can become, it wasn’t getting any better.

I could see that, if not handled carefully, it could quickly and easily devolve in to name calling, ill-considered threats and all kinds of other childish behaviour that both sides at some time in the future may come to regret.

One of the worst aspects about it was that for the most part, the relationship had been pretty good up to that point, built up over a few years. It was, sort of, sad to see it starting to break down like this. So whilst I didn’t believe that my partner and I were wrong, I felt poorly about the course that things were taking.

Well, we decided recently to all meet in person to seek to resolve things if it was at all possible – so the stage was set for a final showdown. I pictured over and over how the events may unfold.

I anticipated all kinds of questions, assertions, points of view that may be put forward from this person and how I would counter them. I felt myself getting increasingly worked up over it all. It was then that I realised that the proverbial demon in the room was not necessarily in the other person, but maybe, just maybe, in myself. That’s right me.

Now I’m not all of a sudden saying that the other party was right and I felt myself to be totally responsible for everything – not at all. What I mean is that I stopped and started to reflect on myself and the approach that I was taking and felt that I was always approaching the situation from one of combat. I was coming at it as though they’re wrong and we’re right or we’ve got to sort this with action and take ‘em down and drag ‘em out.

An extreme problem deserves an extreme solution

Now maybe this attitude was justified; maybe it was the right course of action; maybe it was necessary. As Batman says, an extreme problem deserves an extreme solution. But this wasn’t an extreme solution. Expecting combat, negativity, opposition and confrontation was not necessarily the most effective or productive way to deal with or approach the situation.

The last of human freedoms – the ability to chose one’s attitude in a given set of circumstances.Viktor Frankl

So in that moment, I chose to change my perspective and take a more even-handed approach and outlook to how I’d deal with the situation. Now I’m not sure if it directly impacted the course of events, but things turned out a lot differently to how I’d been expecting them to up to that point in time.

For the most part, the final conversation went quite amicably. There was no name calling, there was no shouting, there were no accusations. We did end up reaching a pretty amicable compromise.

No, I didn’t want to give any ground – as I didn’t think that it was deserved. But sometimes the best thing to do is take a bit of a hit for a larger, longer term gain. We came to a compromise reasonably quickly that all of us were happy with and signed it off, chatted politely and moved on.

So I’m writing this wondering how differently the situation might have gone if I’d not decided to take a non-combative stance. What if I’d gone in there ready to shoot first and ask questions later. What if I’d gone in there standing 100% resolute behind my point of view and legal evidence that we were right and they’d made the error in judgement? Would the situation have just devolved in to spiteful, childish name calling and accusations?

Well, I’m just glad that it didn’t go that way.

I’m not religious, as I’ll say many times, but that doesn’t stop me appreciating wisdom and logic if that’s where I find it. I’m reminded of a biblical quote: before you question the twig in someone else’s eye, first deal with the log in your own.  Said another way by an old high school teacher of mine, before you expect someone else to change, first work on yourself.

Here’s a couple of questions that are worth considering:

  • Maybe they’re not the problem and we are?
  • Maybe we’re acting irrationally.
  • Maybe there’s something that we haven’t thought of.
  • Before we expect the other person to change, have we walked the proverbial mile in their shoes?
  • Have we considered the situation from their perspective?
  • Have we given their situation due consideration?
  • Do we need to “win” 100% of this or can we concede some ground?
  • Though we may be right, have we been mature enough to not obliterate their pride and dignity.
  • Did we rob them of our pride at the expense of our own?

So, if I may be so bold and ask, have you encountered this recently? Have you found yourself in this situation and had to deal with it? Why did you chose to deal with it in the way you did? What helped you decide to deal with it as you did?

As Victor Frankl said:

Everything can be taken from a man or a woman but one thing: the last of human freedoms to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.

image 1 copyright © darrentunicliff
Image 2 copyright © mazintosh

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