By far, the most difficult seminar to teach at CareerTrack, among the 200 offered, was Dealing With Difficult People. Instructors burnt out on it. That jerk in their life was top of mind when attendees came into class.
By the first break, the speaker had presented three concrete tips to make things better. Yet attendees rushed up, not to explain which method they’d try first, but to fervently share their horror story. We discovered that it is extremely difficult for anyone to:
• Get out of the rut of complaining to others.
• Suggest something that "would make it better for both of us" or ask the other person for a suggestion.
• See how one’s own behavior could be difficult for others.
(Crossing the bustling streets in London I noticed how impatient motorists seemed to be. Back in Sausalito, driving through town I complained about the “obliviously slow, gawking tourists who dawdled in the crosswalk.”)
What Makes You Most Angry and How Will You Act Next Time?
What gets you peeved? Again and again. Lucky you. You are experiencing a Learning Moment. One that can make your life better. Eventually. Moments of anger are the wake-up calls for practicing conflict resolution.
If you don't see a pattern in what keeps happening to you it may be because you need to be hit on the head again to get the lesson. About now, you may be thinking to yourself, “Enough character-building already!”
For example, I caught myself complaining (again) about a colleague who persistently asked me for free advice. Yet she had ignored my single request for help just two months ago.
Do not let somebody else determine your behavior.
My righteousness was palpable. But not helpful. Thankfully I had a deadline to meet and did not have time to share my hot feelings with this colleague by phone. With time to reflect I realized she’d hit one of my hot buttons.
Instead of attacking her for continuing to expect free help from me while ignoring my request for help I could state my stance in a way more likely to be heard:
“Sheila, thank you for valuing my advice as I appreciate your expertise. Would you like to set up a cross-consulting session? That way, we might each have 30 minutes to ask the other person questions, then see if we need more time. Or, via the coaching button on my web site, you can suggest some times that are convenient for me to advise you. It’s likely that one of the times will work for me too. Thank you.”
Cool Off and Get Clear by Responding in Writing
With a hot button behavior, you are more likely to stick to your suggested solution and keep cool if you write to the other person, with your suggested course of action. I felt myself cool down as I wrote (and re-wrote) this email.
In my message to Sheila, I:
1. “Sandwiched My Specific Suggested Change Between Two Positive Statements
By starting and ending with positive comments you increase the chances that the other person must address what you suggest rather than criticize you for how you suggested it. That’s powerful protection for you.
2. Invoked the “two choice” gambit.
That is I presumed that she would change her behavior rather than asking her to, by offering two alternative changes. This is akin to the presumptive close.
Recognize Your Hot Buttons and Practice Healthy Responses to Them
Research shows each of us have three hot buttons – other’s behaviors that cause us to go bonkers. That’s when we leap to our own defense or go on the attack.
When you don’t like what someone has said or done you are also more likely to:
• Use emotion-laden words: “…thoughtlessly late.”
• Characterize the situation in the extreme: “You always…”
• Describe what peeves you yet not suggest an alternative behavior or two. (Never offer more than three.)
The Sharpest Stick Points Out the Biggest Place for Relief in Your Life
Hot button behaviors are probably the most difficult learning opportunities we face in life. They are for me. That means even tiny changes in how we act can reap huge relief when we manage to make them.
For more ideas on how to stay positive and productive when faced with hot button behavior in others see Think Simple Now, Steve Pavlina, Bob Sutton, Tammy Lenski and the timeless book on the topic by Rick Kirschner and Rick Brinkman, Dealing with People You Can't Stand.