I’ve often told audiences attending my “Dealing with Difficult People” seminars that there is no such thing as a difficult person, just people with whom we have a difficult time. This is an important distinction since, when we call others “difficult,” we relinquish control over our own behavior.
Unfortunately, much of our anger and frustration is a direct reaction to blaming others for our own frustration. Saying “She makes me so mad when she does that” or “He has ruined my whole day” does nothing but increase our frustration.
In reality, outside events do not cause our frustration, or irritation. Accepting this contention is an open door to living a productive and happier life.
Most people refuse to accept this reality since it requires accepting full responsibility for their behavior. Let’s be clear, you are not responsible for what other people say or do, nor are you responsible for what life hands you.
If we drive into a traffic jam and are late for an important appointment, we are not responsible for the traffic, but we are responsible for our reaction to what’s going on.
In dealing with our “difficult” people, choosing our reactions rather than blaming others for them takes back control of our choices.
Similarly, what others say or do is not the cause of our anger or frustration, no matter how “difficult” they seem. Meanwhile, abdicating responsibility for our feelings gives away one of our most precious gifts—our power to choose.
Cut the Cord
It is important to keep responsibility for your emotions away from the “difficult” people in your life. This is an unpopular perspective, as illustrated by numerous news stories that blame outside factors for inner anger and frustration.
Here is one example: “A worker shot and killed his supervisor because the supervisor fired him.” If being fired actually caused this person to take such drastic action, every fired worker would do the same. Fortunately this is not the case.
When I was fired from my first job, I was angry, hurt, and depressed. Years later I realized that my boss was not responsible for my emotions; I was. I promise you, we are dealing with much more than simple semantics here.
Observe how others blame outside factors for their inner feelings. Listen for phrases such as “He makes me so angry.” But don’t criticize them. Instead, look for behaviors you can identify as similar to your own.
Once you see how others relinquish control of their emotions to outside events, you can regain control over your own over-emotional reactions.
Practice phrases such as “I get upset when she does that” or “I feel hurt when he treats me that way.” By changing the way you respond to your “difficult” people, you stand a chance of getting a different response from them.
Their reactions may still not be to your liking, but approaching people from different angles will actually give them new choices.
They should be like that!
At the beginning of this discussion, we used phrases such as “She shouldn’t do that!” This kind of self-talk gets to the root cause of most of our anger and frustration.
If you accept the fact that we do have control over our emotions, you see why it is important to fix the tricks our mind plays on us with “should,” “have to,” “must,” and “need to.”
One definition of “have to” is having no choice. For example, I don’t have to go to work, but if I choose to stay home I suffer the logical consequences of my behavior. If I continue to stay home, I may lose my job and may not meet my expenses.
Does this prove that I have to go to work? Not really. There are very few things I “have to” do. Life is not an obligation; it’s a series of choices and with those choices there are consequences.
In dealing with our “difficult” people, choosing our reactions rather than blaming others for them takes back control of our choices. Try it; I’m sure you’ll experience a positive result.
This is Part 1 of a three-part series.
Dave Mather is a Performance Improvement Specialist at Dale Carnegie Business Group in Toronto. His columns can be read at ept.ms/dave-mather
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