Saturday February 9, 2013
Facing difficult people
By THEAN LEE CHENG
Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to bring out the best in people at their worst
Authors: Dr Rick Brickman and Dr Rick Kirschner
VERY often, we meet people for the first time, share an hour or so with them, and walk away thinking So-and-So is so nice. If the relationship is given the opportunity to progress, the veneer of congeniality may remain. Chances are, over time and further interactions, the real person may emerge.
If two people were able to accept each other’s faults and strengths – and continue to be friends – there would be no need for this book.
However, this ideal state does not happen most of the time. Instead, what we find most of the time are people within our home, office, community and along the by-ways of life who frustrate, irritate, hurt, disappoint, embitter us and who add stress to our lives. It may be a brother, a mother, a friend, a colleague, a member of our neighbourhood, our boss or the salesman. If it is someone we live or work with, life can become a drudgery.
This group of people tends to bring out the worst in us and we tend to want to stay as far away from them as possible.
However, there is another group who amuse us, bring a smile to our lips, encourage us and make us feel on top of the world when we are feeling down in the dumps and who are absolutely fun to be with. Little wonder then that we tend to gravitate to this group. But just as no one person can bring out all the negatives in us, no one person can bring out all the positives.
In life’s repertoire, you will come across people from both groups.
And you yourself may be someone else’s bad news because no matter how wonderful one may think he or she is, everybody is somebody’s difficult person some of the time.
You may agree – or disagree – with this or that person about who is the difficult one, and who is not. But there is certain consensus about what people do and say that make them difficult.
While the authors have identified 10 specific behaviour patterns that sane people resort to when they feel threatened or thwarted, this is just a broad guideline. Ten is a nice round number to begin with and the ones mentioned are the general behaviourial patterns people may fall into. In all likelihood, there are other radical behaviourial patterns which have been left out. Often, the words uttered and the behaviour that result is the outcome of a person’s thoughts.
The thing to remember is, when it comes to dealing with people, there is simply no magic wand, or sets of rules.
When a person behaves in a way that baffles, frustrate, hurt or disappoint us, their actions – in this case behaviour – are communicating a certain message to us that they are unable to verbalise.
Their behaviour is representative of their struggle with, or withdrawal from some undesired circumstances, or from a person who brings out the negatives in them.
Communication is only effective when two people share their thoughts and feelings with honesty. There is no communication if one party does so, but the other remains stubbornly silent. The basis of this book is how that communication is forwarded and brings into focus not only the words used, but the tone, volume and mannerism during the communication process.
The book is structured in such a way that it is not necessary to read it from cover to cover. Instead, the authors recommend that the first several chapters be understood and the reader then turns directly to the chapter that deals with his/her difficult person.
The authors have labelled the 10 obnoxious behaviourial patterns – the tank, the grenade, the may be person and so on. The tank denotes one who shoots at everything and everybody when he or she is having a bad day, while the grenade is one waiting to explode at the slightest provocation.
However difficult a person may be, the authors suggest patience and compassion. People view life through their own lenses. They have certain perspectives that another person may not be aware of. The basis of communication is then to be able to view life through the lenses of another.
While the authors have outlined certain difficult behaviour, they also divide people into those who are task-oriented and those who are people-focused.
Within the task-focus group, some may be perfectionists and want to get the task right which means spending more time on the job. Others may just want to get the task done as quickly as possible, without bothering about quality.
Within the people-focused group, the authors divide those who want to keep the peace. This sub-group avoid a confrontation at all costs but let off steam in other ways. A second sub-group go in search of appreciation.
While a large part of the book is about face-to-face contact and communication, the authors have also included a couple of chapters on phone and email communication.
If face-to-face communication is challenging – and it is – there are even more barriers to communication in email and mobile and fixed line communication. Now even the best of relationships can turn sour with unprecedented speed. Face-to-face communication offers numerous ways to send and receive signals.
However, in phone and e-mail communications, some of these signals are lost, or misunderstood and incorrectly interpreted.
Quoting a study done in the late 1960s, the authors write that 55% of the meaning that people make in any communication about feelings and attitudes is based on what they see, 38% is based on how it sounds and 7% based on actual words.
This effectively means that in a phone conversation, you receive only 38% of the signals and in e-mail communication, only 7%.
Even within a telephone conversation, there is a difference when using the mobile or fixed line. With a mobile, the person maybe in a meeting, or may be driving. Both these situations and many others are not the most conducive time to be carrying on a phone conversation.
The two Ricks end the book with a simple suggestion – count your blessings. If you remember to count your blessings today, maybe even right now, and every day, you will have the strength and focus to enjoy the challenges presented by difficult people.