The following article on
dealing with difficult people will show you a fairly simple technique
you can use with almost anyone. Dealing with difficult people
is not as hard as you'd think, once you know where the source
of the trouble really is.
NICK AND CARL went to a party together,
where they saw Damon speaking loudly, saying rude things to people,
and spilling red wine on the white tablecloth.
On the way home, Nick said, "What
"You must be talking about Damon,"
said Carl with a smile.
"Yeah," said Nick, shaking his
head in disgust, "What an obnoxious human being!"
"Maybe he has brain damage,"
Carl said. But then when he noticed the look on Nick's face,
he went on to explain. "I mean, maybe he's not a jerk. Maybe
he fell on his head when he was a kid."
Nick looked at Carl and rolled his eyes.
Carl said, "It's not that far-fetched.
I used to know this guy who was really nice but was kind of weird.
One day a friend of mine said, 'That guy is weird' in a mean
way (given what I knew about him). She acted as if he should
stop being the way he was, as if he had a choice. She assumed
he had a choice. So I told her something she didn't know. He
was drafted and served in Vietnam. While he was there, he took
a bullet through the head. Seriously. No joke. The dude showed
me the scars. He had a scar where the bullet went in and a scar
where it came out. Of course, as I told her this, her feelings
about that guy changed completely."
Nick thought about this for a minute. Carl
stayed quiet. He could see the wheels were turning. Then Nick
said, "Did it ever occur to you that Damon might just be
a jerk?" Nick knew Carl prided himself on being a positive
person. Nick's attitude was that it's pretty much all hype. But
Nick also admired Carl's attitude, especially under stress. Carl
seemed to be able to stay calm and rational when most people
would have lost their heads. But with this comment, Nick felt
he had proved that yes, Damon may have had brain damage, but
it is equally likely maybe more likely he
was just a jerk.
Carl answered thoughtfully. "It is
possible. But since we're making it up, there's another thing
"What do you mean we're making it
up?" asked Nick.
"Well, we don't know, right?"
said Carl, "We don't know if he's got brain cancer; we don't
know if he is just a buffoon who enjoys bothering people or has
mad cow disease. Whatever we say, we're making it up because
we don't know. Therefore
" and here Carl paused, and
a charming smile came across his face, "therefore, my explanation
is the better one."
"How do you figure?" Nick asked.
"Because an explanation that produces
anger or upset or even annoyance produces stress hormones like
adrenaline and cortisol. And when you have too much of these
hormones in your body or have them too often, it weakens your
immune system, puts excess fat on your belly, makes you less
pleasant to be around, and might even cause brain damage. So
now it looks totally different. You've got the choice between
two totally made-up theories to explain Damon's behavior: He's
either a jerk or he has brain damage. One makes you feel dislike
for him and a kind of self-righteous indignation unpleasant
feelings and at least a little stressful. The other makes you
feel compassion for him and makes you feel lucky that your own
brain is intact. This is a higher-quality experience. And better
for your health."
Nick looked genuinely surprised and said,
"You know, that actually made a lot of sense."
a change of mind
If you want to change the image on your
computer screen, you don't use white-out. It would change the
look of your screen, but that's not the best way to go about
it. In the same way, if you want to improve your relationship
with someone you dislike, don't change your behavior. Although
that would change the relationship, it isn't the best
way to go about it.
Your behavior toward someone is an effect,
not a cause. It is the effect of the way you think about the
person and what you think gets communicated one way or the other,
even if you're good at hiding your feelings. If you smile and
do something nice for someone you resent, somehow they aren't
thrilled. Your feelings come across, no matter what your behavior
But your thinking changes your behavior
even your nonverbal behavior. So change your thoughts
and let the behavior take care of itself. That is both easier
and harder than it sounds. It is easier because you don't have
to lift a finger. It's harder because you think you know. When
you have a bad opinion about someone, to some degree your mind
is closed on the subject.
But let's try it anyway. Think of a person
right now who you don't get along with. Now let your imagination
run away with you: Imagine some good reason they are the way
they are a reason that allows you to feel sympathy rather
than resentment. Maybe he's had to endure the death of many of
his closest family members and is having a difficult time dealing
with it. Maybe he's under stress you don't know about. Maybe
he was severely abused as a child, and while he is now impaired,
he really is doing the best he can.
The poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote,
"If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we
should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to
disarm all hostility."
You might not know this person's secret
history. Maybe you never will. But you can use your imagination.
"But this is all just made up,"
you might be thinking, "how is that going to change my opinion?"
If you are asking that question, perhaps you haven't realized
that whatever you think already is made up. All you know is what
the person does and what he says, right? And you don't like it.
You're assuming he knows his behavior is causing you stress.
And/or you're assuming he is in control of what he's doing and
could change if he wanted to. In other words, you're already
making it up. You've made up a reason he acts the way he
does. You have explained it something like this: He is consciously
making you suffer and is in control of his actions. Do you know
that? No. You made it up.
So now you realize that your resentment
and the extra stress hormones it pumps into your system
are caused by a reason you made up. All I'm saying
here is quit being a victim to the first reason that comes to
mind, and as long as you're making something up, make up something
that won't harm you and may even help you. That makes sense,
Come up with a good reason he is the way
he is. Sympathy is better than resentment (unless the person
is a sociopath, in which case you should read this). Sympathy is better for you and
better for your relationship. Every time you feel resentment,
think of your reason again. Consider the possibility it might
be true, or something like it might be true.
Your behavior toward the person will change
in subtle ways. You won't have to make an effort to change your
behavior. Just be your genuine self. But your genuine self will
communicate your changed mind and that will change the way the
other person acts toward you. Your change of mind may
break the negative pattern, and before long both of you may discover
about each other that you're not so bad after all.
Make up a better reason
to explain someone's behavior.
Interpret the world in a way
that produces good results.
Know when you are guessing
and guess for results.