I’m experiencing challenging people and situations wherever I turn. Why do I seem to encounter so many challenging people?
There's no easy answer to that question because you also play a role in the dynamic. And, there might be another way to perceive their behavior. Understanding their perspective can create opportunities for alternative approaches to connect.
The best-laid plans of mice and men. Go oft awry.
–John Steinbeck, American author
Reality doesn’t always measure up to our aspirations. We can think through plans and strategies all day, but once we include others into the equation we need to adapt, often. Why? Because we must interact as fluidly as possible with people from every social class, every profession, and every institution to overcome obstacles and drive results.
People will show up, sometimes out of the blue, asking controversial questions, ignoring the positives, and focusing on the negatives. They make us and others experience a range of unconstructive emotions—unease, anger, fear, anxiety, frustration—just to name a few. Many times, these individuals show up in a hurry and leave our lives just as quickly. But sometimes they stick around, becoming permanent fixtures, and we can't escape them.
What do we do about people that inhabit our lives and invade our emotional space? First, we should regard them as our best teachers. Every chance we connect with challenge is an opportunity to learn something about how we operate and can operate more effectively. They highlight our potential for deeper virtues, helping us work on our patience, grit, and courage.
Often, those that antagonize us teach us lessons we would have no other way of learning. Adversity is the path toward growth.
Learning to navigate challenging interpersonal relationships without compromising our ethics or personal values is the goal. So instead of worrying about the fact that we will eventually have to work through others to drive results, we must open up to the possibilities of learning more about ourselves. Listen for the lessons. As we gain more self-awareness about how we operate, we'll become more effective at what we do, creating more possibilities, better results, and deeper connections.
We are all fallen creatures and all very hard to live with.
— C.S. Lewis, British writer and lay theologian
Difficult people are the greatest teachers.
— Pema Chödrön, American Tibetan Buddhist nun
We are all human and fall short of where we need to be. We must never stop trying to be the best we can be.
— Richard Adams, English novelist and writer
The awareness that we are all human beings together has become lost in war and through politics.
— Albert Schweitzer, Alsatian polymath, theologian, writer, and physician
Life is made up of sobs, sniffles, and smiles, with sniffles predominating.
— O. Henry, The Gift of the Magi
Because we will cross paths with people who challenge our thoughts and reactions our whole lives, it's important to learn how to work with them sooner rather than later. They teach us about ourselves and challenge us to be better people. We can take comfort in the fact that, with the right tools and strategies, we can learn to deal with challenging personalities in ways that are constructive and help move us and others forward.
PUTTING IT INTO PRACTICE
Consider several recent situations in which you've crossed paths with challenging personalities. How did you deal with them? What feelings came up? What thoughts did you have that turned into beliefs about how people operate? Can those beliefs be broadened? How could you have handled things differently?
Talk to a friend or trusted colleague about ways in which you've dealt with challenging people. Consider several alternatives to these actions for dealing with them in the future. Having alternatives at the ready for next time increases your ability to be creative in the moment.
If you keep a journal for your own development, write down the ways that you typically respond to people with challenging personalities. What are the positive aspects of your typical response? What are the negative aspects?
To perform well while under pressure, we need to train our minds to work more effectively. Making the right decisions, whether that is hashing out how artificial intelligence will evolve or ensuring naval ships are ready on time takes practice.
Driving Results With Others: A pocket guide for learning on the job enables you with all the tools and tactics you need to make your interactions less stressful and more effective.