Can’t stand that person!
So why are you allowing him or her so much control over your life?
WHEN we come across someone who irks us or clashes with our personality, the easiest path to take is to dismiss their value as a person altogether. But that’s not always the best path to take.
Recently, I received an e- mail from a reader who asked how they could best deal with “difficult people”, explaining troubles they’ve experienced with a testing colleague.
In the workplace, we are bound to find one or two people we don’t mix easily with or who simply cause us problems, consciously or otherwise. Thankfully, I’ve met only a few people who fall into this category over the years. It can be a real headache in a number of ways, and sometimes even the best efforts to remedy the situation can go awry.
In one of my previous roles, I encountered quite a belligerent colleague who created a number of challenges within our working relationship. Previous to this experience, I had never known anything like it so I was astonished at how a professional could act in ways that caused such tension and discomfort.
On my part, it didn’t help at all that I was struggling at the time with the culture shock of living in a new country, and I was certainly much less mindful of the situation as I might normally have been. Instead of responding to the situation, I found myself reacting to my emotional impulses, and in the end I decided the best course of action for me at the time was to create space by moving on from the situation.
After a short while, I noticed that I was still replaying situations and conversations in my head, which served to fuel the negative emotions that should have long since dissipated.
Soon after I caught on to what I was doing, I had what I call a “mindful conversation” with myself in an effort to resolve the tension that I was feeling.
First off, I realised that no one who’s happy and truly content with themselves is likely to seek to create problems for others. Often times, difficult people have considerable insecurities, a low sense of self- acceptance, and they may also be experiencing hardships in their personal lives. We might have to engage with belligerent people during working hours, but they have to live with themselves all the time.
With that recognition, a sense of understanding began to emerge. We often assume that people cause us problems for the fun of it; however, if we think about how they might be struggling, then the potency of our emotional reactions begins to lessen.
We can even think about times when we have been difficult towards others. It tends to be the case that, when we’re the ones causing the problems, it’s likely because of something that’s happening at home or maybe we’ve had a bad day, or we’ve received some bad news and we’re finding it difficult to cope with.
While this doesn’t excuse the behaviour, it at least explains why it happens. It’s also helpful to realise that we all have our buttons that, when pushed, can cause adverse reactions within us. We can’t control how people behave towards us, but we do have a say in how we respond to their behaviour – we can choose to step back and take a few deep breaths, and try to minimise our suffering that would otherwise increase if we choose to fully engage with unhelpful impulses.
If taking a few deep breaths and leaning away from troublesome reactions is tough at first, then perhaps avoidance of the difficult person encountered might be an option, for a time at least. Depending on the person, it may be possible to politely raise the issue of their behaviour with them, letting them know how you feel. They could be entirely unaware of their behaviour and its impact on others.
It’s important to realise that no one should be so important that they are allowed control over your happiness. It might take some time at first to overcome hostile feelings towards difficult people, but it’s critical to try to understand why the other person may be behaving in a challenging way.
This is a key step towards alleviating the negative and uncomfortable feelings that can arise within us, as it allows us to regain some control over our emotions and therefore rein in their often powerful influence over us. Sandy Clarke has long held an interest in emotions, mental health, mindfulness and meditation. He believes the more we understand ourselves and each other, the better societies we can create. If you have any questions or comments, e- mail star2@ thestar. com. my.