Mastering Difficult People

What I’m about to say may really surprise you. I once worked with someone that totally drove me crazy. I actually had to mentally prepare myself to see her face and have a conversation with her. Yes, it was that painful. And after I spent a few minutes with her, I was exhausted like I had just run a marathon.


This strong reaction just mystified me. Why did this woman drive me crazy? Why did I feel the emotion just well up inside me when I was in her presence?  Many years passed before I totally understood WHY I reacted so strongly in our interactions.


Have you ever found someone in your office annoying? I’m talking about someone that just seems to bring out the worst in you. Does it make you feel out of control? Maybe if you understood why you were having such a strong reaction, it might help you deal with the situation in a more effective manner.


You can have a strong emotional response to someone that triggers one of your life values. In fact, after much analysis, I realize that’s what was evoking such an intense reaction in me. You see, my co-worker was far from an authentic individual. She put on airs and pretended to be someone that she definitely was not. Her inability to allow others to see her true self, just totally turned me off. One of my strongest values is authenticity. I strongly believe that people should be true to self and others. Someone that tries so hard to be something they are not, triggers me. At the time, I didn’t recognize this in our interaction. If I had, it would have made it easier for me to deal with her behavior. Instead of just emotionally responding to her actions, I could have consciously worked to understand her behavior.


You can have a strong emotional response to someone that displays behavior that you subconsciously feel represents you.For example, you are constantly triggered by a woman that works in your office. She’s a really nice person but you can’t stand to interact with her. You look for reasons that the two of you don’t have to socialize or work together.


The truth is that you have struggled with being able to advocate for yourself since the beginning of your career. In meetings, you have difficulty finding your voice and speaking your mind. You would have moved up in your career by now if you could overcome this deficit.


When you interact with that co-worker, it’s like looking in a mirror. You are reminded of all the ways that you don’t measure up. Of course, you don’t realize that this is happening. All you realize is that you can’t stand to spend time with her and you feel irritated in her presence.


You can be triggered by a co-worker that reminds you of someone in the past. Actually, this one has happened to me before. Apparently, I reminded a past co-worker of a sister. I had this epiphany while we were in the middle of a meeting. As she hurled accusations at me, I realized that she sounded like she was talking to a sister. I interrupted her accusations to calmly ask her if I reminded her of a sister or someone. Her face turned white and I had my answer.


If you are presently dealing with someone that gets under your skin, the trick is to look inward. Once you understand WHY you are having this reaction, it will make you feel much more in control to handle the situation.

Be the Change

smiling pugI walked into my office and noticed something strange. Joey the Cat was taking a nice long nap in Miles the Pug’s bed. That was the first time that Joey ever had made any attempt to get close to the bed.


You see, Miles calls the shots in our house. Joey will always slink carefully into the room to make sure that Miles is nowhere around. Between you and me, I believe that Miles is all bark but no bite, but his actions have convinced Joey that he must stay on guard and be careful. He is clearly the alpha dog and rules the house.


For some reason, Joey had decided to make some changes in his life and took the big step to sleep in Miles’s bed. It was a gutsy move after all these years.


A couple days later, I found Joey sleeping on the chair in my bedroom. What’s unusual about this is that it’s a well-known fact that the chair with the throw belongs to Miles. I found this behavior odd and had never seen Joey attempt such a move. I chuckled about this and went about my work for the day.


The next day, I found Joey asleep in Miles’ bed again. Then it got interesting. Miles walked into the room and got ready to get in his bed. I held my breath as I waited to see what would happen next. Joey looked up and made no attempt to move a muscle. He put his head back down and went to sleep. Miles just stood still and stared, confused by this new turn of events. Eventually, he decided to go under my desk and fall asleep.


How and why did this happen? The cat and dog had spent years knowing their well-defined roles and playing them out on a regular basis. But here they were, changing things up in a big way.


Suddenly, Joey had changed his behavior, which led to a totally different and surprising outcome.


I work with many organizations where teams are having difficulty collaborating and working together. Often, certain individuals within the team will be struggling to get along. The complaints usually focus on the other person’s personality traits, negative behavior or shortcomings that they feel impede their ability to work with them successfully.


Very rarely do they see how their own behavior might be blocking their path to success. By focusing on the other’s faults, they have difficulty seeing how changing their own behavior and communication could quite possibly change the outcome. Each member is playing their defined role and will continue to play their role until something or someone changes. But it’s often so hard to see that clearly.


If this hits home with you, give some thought as to how you might be playing into this negative situation. What responsibility do you need to take to change the situation from one that is negative to positive?


Be like Joey and take a leap of faith— take the initiative to change the situation.