Tuesday, September 29, 2015

How to deal with a difficult person

Photo license: CC0 Public Domain / FAQ

Conflict is a part of life. Whether in our personal or business lives we encounter people that we find 'difficult'. We may characterize this type of problem simply and say "we just don't see eye to eye". Or perhaps we may feel that this person was put on this earth simply to make our lives utterly miserable.

Sometimes we can brush this troublesome person aside in our minds and focus on other things. But usually, especially in a work setting where your success depends on this individual, it can lead to great stress. A lot of my mentoring conversations involve helping mentees deal with one or more difficult people they regularly encounter.

I have one useful tool to suggest that will either resolve the conflict or at least oftentimes lessen its impact. That tool is empathy - the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Seth Godin recently posted a wonderful article on the subject. It's quite short and worth the read - click here. Seth posits that deciding another person's actions are motivated by stupidity or evilness is rarely helpful. Instead it's far more useful to focus on the context of the situation and the motivation of the person you're dealing with.

Let me quote from that article: "If you want to know why someone does what they do, start with what they know, what they believe and where they came from."

The amount of conflict with another being is inversely proportional to your understanding of that being. You don't have to agree with that individual. That's ok. Just seek to understand - always. It's unlikely to change that person's behavior but it will put a far less vexing frame around them in your mind. And over time that mental reframing alone may transform that difficult person into an ally.

"The best way to destroy an enemy is to make him a friend." 
- Abraham Lincoln