I read an article in the most recent Entrepreneur Magazine issue titled “The art of dealing with difficult people.” Although the article was big on attempted humor and small on specifics, I really liked that fact that much of the article had one key focus (and I’m paraphrasing here) – most of the success you have in dealing with difficult people lies in the success you have in dealing with yourself.
Robin and Mary might both have to “deal with” Jeremy – the same ornery or obnoxious (or otherwise aggravating) individual – but Robin deals with him well, and Mary appears to be internally combusting. The reason is largely because Robin deals with the “difficult person” differently or better than Mary.
Maybe it’s just Robin’s natural “way” of handling situations, but maybe she’s more patient, maybe she’s more empathetic of Jeremy, maybe she doesn’t take things personally, or maybe Robin breathes fully in stressful situations. It could be that Robin thinks of the end goal of a conversation and is more intent on the end goal than the often-painful journey.
On the other hand, Mary might go into conversations with Jeremy anticipating a fight, and she gets upset even before the talk begins. Maybe Mary doesn’t know when she’s about to get upset, and it boils over before she realizes what’s happening. Maybe Mary wants to correct every Jeremy misstatement, or maybe she wants to win every battle. Maybe she is just principled and doesn’t think jerks like Jeremy should win.
I’m not saying that the Robins of the world are always right and the Marys are always wrong. Rather, if we want to effectively deal with difficult people, we have to focus more of our efforts on the person in those conversations that we can control – ourselves.
To deal best with others, learn more about yourself first.