Dealing with Difficult People

March 2008 Newsletter

Hello dear friends! It has been a busy few weeks since we last spoke! We had a full moon lunar eclipse on February 20th and the election battles are consuming our media outlets! Meanwhile, as I’ve been busy preparing this article on dealing with difficult people I am reminded that the most difficult person I deal with is ME! While this article is written in the manner of dealing with others I think it is worth noting that all of these suggestions can also be turned inward as well as outward with others.

However you use the information – I hope you find it helpful and as always, take what you need & leave the rest!

March’s Topic: Dealing with Difficult People, Dealing with Ourselves

In my last newsletter we discussed the power of choice and how critical conscious choices are to a well developed, connected and enthusiastic life.  This month we’ll talk about the power of those choices and what we can do when we are most challenged by our reactions to other people’s behavior.  As we achieve goals and embrace change we will inevitably come into contact with people we believe to be difficult.  These people exhibit troublesome, hurtful or downright negative behavior.  Each of us has a choice as to how we deal with these behaviors in our life.  We are able to claim our freedom by claiming power over our reactions to the behavior of others.

First let me say that boundaries are everything.  The suggestions below are intended for situations where it is to your benefit to master your own reactions to the types of wounded behavior I will be outlining.  Under no circumstances should you put up with abusive behavior, either physical or emotional.  “No” is a beautiful word in our language and not used often enough in furtherance of a peaceful life.  Each person defines abuse and toxic behavior differently.  It is not necessary to compare yourself to others, but only to look within and find your own answer to the question, “Is this situation abusive?”  If your answer is, “Yes.” then it is time to get some assistance with your situation.  Everyone deserves a harmonious life free of toxic influences and damaging behavior. The first and most important choice you can make is to value yourself enough to pursue that sort of life.

Now with that said, often a situation has not escalated to abusive or even toxic.  Sometimes in perfectly good relationships there are moments when either yourself or another person acts from past hurt or is not capable of expressing their emotional landscape directly.  It is helpful to be able to interpret the behavior of others and ourselves within this context.  What I have broken down are some common behavior patterns that I have personally encountered in my practice, at work, home and within myself.  When I encounter these various behaviors my opportunity is to see them differently than I have before, make a different choice as to how I react and therefore have a different experience not only of the other person, but most importantly of myself.  It is an exercise for and about me, not them.

Every spiritual practice speaks of the power of forgiveness, but true forgiveness in my experience begins with understanding.  Often the goal is more practical.  Maybe you would just like to be able to get along better with a colleague at work or with your mother-in-law.  Whatever the goal, my experience is that the practice of mastering my own reactions to the behavior of others has a transformative effect on my own level of harmony and enthusiasm in my life.  It allows me to have greater and lasting focus on my own intentions for my day or in any given situation.  As always it is practice, not perfection.  The journey to self-mastery is never complete but a continuing adventure in understanding and growth.

A word here should also be noted about silence.  Too often we are compelled to participate in conversations best left alone.  We have been taught by society that not responding in a conversation is rude, however, quite often when dealing with difficult people saying nothing is often the best response.  It can be very fulfilling to develop the ability simply watch someone complain or act self important without feeling compelled to engage in any response.

Though it might look like it that person is attacking us (or our friends or spouse) they are simply acting out of their own issue. Their behavior is not, in any way, personal!  If you put some attention on discerning the deeper nature of the behavior of others you will also learn when to speak out.  This mindfulness of our own words and timing gives us a precious moment to choose what response we wish to bring to the situation.  That’s all a fancy way of saying, learn to count to 10 before hopping into the frey or judging that other person.  It will greatly benefit every relationship you have!

I will outline the first archetype in some detail so that you can see how the system works.  Remember though as we go through the others in more abbreviated terms that what we are truly trying to develop is an understanding of the relationship between what people say and how they are truly feeling.  It is not always accurate to take people at face value.  Exercising the skill of observing others and analyzing the extra information you can gain will lead you to more fulfilling relationships and a deeper understanding of yourself. Let’s begin!

The Egotist

The Behavior: The egotist acts out by bragging about their accomplishments often at the expense of others or acting self important.  Tom loudly takes credit for the accomplishments of Sally amongst their colleagues.  Jane pointedly discusses being great at an activity that they know their sister Julia is not in front of their mother.  You mention to your spouse how easy it is to be neat and wonder out loud why s/he cannot seem to do the same.

The Translation:  This person is truly saying:  “I’m not important. I do not matter. There is nothing special about me.”   This behavior comes from a lack of true self-esteem and an idea that for them to be special someone else must suffer or be made less than.  In this person’s heart there is not enough love or admiration to go around and so they must wrest out of their environment any part of it that they can.  A dog eat dog mentality.

Wounding Reaction:  If we respond only to the surface behavior we are led to minimize their contributions, to criticize this person and consequently prove that they, in fact, are not special.  This continues the cycle of wounded behavior. We have played right into the hand of the old pain that caused this behavior to begin with.  Also we are often drawn into controversy that has nothing to do with us or our intention for a harmonious day.  We loudly point out that no Tom you did not do that or that Jane’s accomplishment isn’t that special anyway.  We tell our neat and orderly spouse that they are just that way because they are anal or controlling.

Healing Reaction: Our choice is to instead validate that person’s true accomplishments, sidestep the pomp & circumstance and self importance of the other and speak to their authentic self.   Julia can simply tell Jane that it is great that she’s so good at her special activity.  We can choose to mind our own business while Tom crows at the staff meeting and turn the conversation to another more productive subject or we can find something that Tom truly did to validate his skills. We can simply ask our spouse to pick up his or her clothes without noting how much better we are at the habit of neatness.  Genuine humor, humility and truth tempered with diplomacy is called for.

So as you can see you have the archetype, the nature of the acting out behavior, the translation and our two choices, wounding or healing reactions.  Let me now lay out a few more:

The Complainer

The Behavior: Finds problems and identifies worst case scenarios with regularity.  Points out that things rarely work in their favor.  Not satisfied with the outcome of any given situation.  Shoots holes in silver linings so more rain can pour down on them.

The Translation: I have no solutions.  I am powerless.  I feel helpless.  I have forgotten that I own my choices.

Wounding Reaction: Validate their complaints, get drawn into negativity.  Join in the complaining about the person, place or thing.  Lament the unfairness of it all.

Healing Reaction: Praise their ability to find a solution, ask open ended questions.  Reassure them.  Freely give of your enthusiasm for overcoming obstacles.

The Know it All

The Behavior: Corrects other people, often interrupting conversation.  Usually attempts to have the last word in conversations or conflicts.  Refuses to apologize for wrongdoing – uses self justification to compensate for mistakes.

The Translation: I’m not smart.  My words don’t matter. It is not safe to learn.  I am closed.

Wounding Reaction: Trump their knowledge, prove them wrong.

Healing Reaction: Praise them for what they are correct about. Validate their problem solving skills.  Do not interrupt them.

The Aggressor

The Behavior: Overly assertive in conversation, often raises their voice to make a point.  Quick tempered.  Finds the weak link in a group or idea to bully into submission.  Sarcastic and belittling to others.

The Translation: I’m vulnerable.  You will hurt me if I don’t hurt you first.  I have something to prove.

Wounding Reaction: Return their aggression; top-dog them into submission.  Return the belittling or sarcastic remark with greater skill.  Yell louder.

Healing Reaction: Show them kindness, diffuse the aggressive behavior.  Use genuine open hearted humor to alter the dynamic.  Remain calm but not condescending.  Disengage from the conversation if the aggressiveness does not dissipate.

The Defensive Person

The Behavior: On the defensive in conversations.  Assumes that blame is being cast in their direction.  Untrusting of the motives of others.  Suspicious

The Translation: I am not worthy.  I am not good enough. I feel shame.

Wounding Reaction: Go on the attack.  Validate their lack of worth.  Hurtful sarcasm.  Shaming.

Healing Reaction: Acknowledge their value.  Clearly communicate your intentions and motives.  Be open and non-judgmental

This list of archetypes, behaviors or translations is by no means complete – there are many great psychologists and other spiritual practitioners who could no doubt add to what I have written here.  What others do you see in your environment? The Fermenting Resentment? How about the Victim or the Hero? Any individual can exhibit one or many of these archetypal behaviors.  The same person could be an egotist one day and a complainer the next.  The behavior could be periodic, a reaction to internal stressors in the person’s life or an overall life pattern.  Though it is easier to see these behaviors in others they certainly also exist in ourselves.

They key insights here are to observe the behavior, translate it to the deeper meaning and choose your response with consciousness and compassion.  By taking charge of your own behavior first, you have a chance to free yourself from negative interactions that plague so many relationships and proceed upon your path towards self-mastery with greater harmony.

Thought of the Month

Every interaction we have with another human being can be healing or wounding to all involved. It is up to use to choose which behaviors we would like to master in ourselves. Playing into old ideas of pain and low self esteem serves no one and least of all those of us moving toward living in enthusiasm. The choice is ours!

Tools for Self Mastery

I have added a new section to our content library which will have tools and worksheets to use on our path to self-mastery. I have posted Goal Worksheets and a Quick Reference guide for these behavioral archetypes for your personal use. Keep checking back for more tools as our library grows.

Good Deed of the Month – Microlending

Our link page has a link to Kiva.org. This great web site hooks up microlending investors with reputable business owners in developing economies. If you aren’t privy to what microlending is all about take a look at their site and get enthused! These folks have small businesses who may need only $100 or $500 in capital. You can lend whatever amount you choose, only $10 or $25 if that is all you have to share. Kiva takes care of accounting for which group of investors help any given business, tracking repayments and keeping you up to date via e-mail. It is wonderful to know that my investment of $25 can truly help another business owner shape the destiny of their lives and of their families. When you have time, check it out. Check it out in our Environmental Links section.

Posted in Dealing with Difficulty.