Dealing With Difficult People
January 10, 2020
Just before my year end break, I had an interesting conversation with a young coachee of mine who was complaining that he found it very challenging to deal with a difficult colleague at work, who was in a slightly senior position.
I set out to understand more and got into a coaching conversation with him.
I asked-“What is the challenge you are facing with this individual?”
“Well, he is a dominating, untrustworthy and arrogant person ” was his response
I had to probe deeper- “You just shared your opinion about this person. What exactly is the problem or challenge you are experiencing, when you deal with this person”
My young colleague went silent. I could see he was thinking. I did not interrupt his train of thought. After a few seconds, he responded ” I need to have regular dealings with the person. When I bring my ideas or feedback to the table, he challenges every thing I say in an arrogant manner. I feel like he is judging me and my ideas. He gets very aggressive and I don’t like it . I am unable to have a meaningful conversation. I hate this person”
Its my turn to reflect on what my young friend shared with me. I slowly ask him again- “so what is YOUR REAL issue? Is it that he IS Bad or he makes you FEEL bad? ” .
I immediately get the confirmation. ” Every time I get into a meeting, this person manages to get under my skin, I lose my cool, I feel stressed and I am unable to continue having a meaningful conversation”
“Do I understand you correctly? Your issue is that this person upsets you and makes you feel stressed.?”.
“Yes” is his response.
I paraphrase what he confirmed, once again-“So, your real issue is that this person evokes negative emotions in you by the way he behaves with you”
He nods his head vigorously, agreeing with whatever i just said.
I push the pedal further and ask him ” If there was a way, where, you did not lose composure and you felt calm , peaceful and happy- would you be able to deal with him more effectively?”
“Yes I would be able to deal with the person more effectively , for sure”
I now turn the argument around- “If I were to say that your real issue is about not getting stressed and managing your own composure better , when dealing with him- would that be accurate?”
I think he now begins to see where I am going with this- “Yes , absolutely” he answers.
“OK then. Now that you know that the person has that power to destabilize your composure, what can you do differently from now on, so that you do not lose your cool?”
“I don’t know what I can do. He’s that way , I can’t help it”
I prod on ” Imagine for a moment, you had a plan to stay calm and composed – What would that plan be”
Again, my friend goes into a silent mode. I quietly observe as he is struggling with my question. Eventually, he says ” I guess I will go prepared knowing that he will say stuff that will rile me . I will remind myself that I Should not lose my cool and I Should stay calm”
I then logically ended the coaching conversation helping my friend devise a clear plan that he will use to stay calm whenever he is engaging with this person.
Most times, we think the issue is with the other person when in reality, the issue is with how the other person makes us feel. If we know how to manage our feelings, our emotions, we can deal with our stakeholders more efficiently. We have a better chance of controlling our own feelings, our emotions than trying to change the behavior of the person we are dealing with.
The world and the people we deal with are like a mirror to us . They react and respond the way we deal and engage with them.
We could be having conversations with anyone – colleagues, family members, strangers. In our ability to stay calm, composed and in control of our own emotions, lies the power to influence and have meaningful conversations.