Dealing with Difficult People

5 Steps to Handling Difficult Situations or Difficult People

A Coach’s Perspective

 I am sure you can think of plenty of times when you ran into challenging situations and people and didn’t like the experience or how the story played itself out. Working with difficult people or challenges in your organisation is definitely one place to test this out. So how do you help yourself manage these kind of experiences when they show up?

I often run this process in a coaching scenario when people are finding it difficult to handle situations or people at work. It gives them the tools to begin to take charge of the situation internally, with a view to becoming more self-aware and resilient over time.

We cannot totally avoid difficult situations or people, but the best tool to manage this is explore how we process the experience in our minds and use self-awareness to get a handle on it. The more we notice, the more self-aware we are.  Self-awareness can be reduced to how good you are at observing you, your reactions or responses to events or words of others and then how you manage your state of mind and that experience. The end game is to build your resilience personal effectiveness.

When situations or other people challenge you

 

Start by noticing what is going on for you, what is the event or situation and how are you responding to it. Is there one particular theme, when you hit these situations. A good example : other people are wrong, you were treated unfairly, it shouldn’t have happened, people should do things differently. We can all relate to the story we have told ourselves about a person or an event. The most important thing is to find a way to get back to happier and more contented states rapidly, when you encounter challenges, particularly when you have to work with difficult people.

Working with your response is the only thing you have

 

You respond to what you perceive, and as you perceive, so you behave. This tells us that what you are experiencing is your response, not the event itself.  And other people’s perceptions are indications of their behaviour too. Your response is mili-seconds behind the event.  Your response is your own spin on the story, based on your own default thinking patterns. So what if you were to catch that response and notice everything your mind does with external events?  So here’s the thing, what your mind does with an event is the only thing you have to deal with. It may be a tall order when you are incensed, furious, agitated by some injustice “created” by an external event or person.

If you want to feel better, just work on your response and how you talk to yourself about any experience you don’t particularly like. Your response is the ONLY piece you have to work with it in responding to all future similar situations. Everything outside is irrelevant.

What you can do in 5 Steps

Here are 5 steps to help you manage and change your response to what’s going on.  It’s practice that will definitely make dealing with others easier. The only thing we know we can change is ourselves and not others. Think of a challenging situation or person you have to deal with right now. Run it through these 5 steps.

1. Notice the Movie running in Your Mind

We all have the ability to notice, because, if we didn’t we couldn’t interpret anything in life. We have to find a meaning, and fill in the details. That is our innate ability to be self-reflexive or think about what we think about”.

Ask yourself What do I need to believe here to create this response? What am I noticing in my mind when I run the replay of the event? How am I talking to myself about the event? What movie am I running in my head? What is the quality of it? What emotions are running around inside me? And how real are they? If I were to stand back and just get the theme of this movie, how would I describe it? A tragedy, a comedy, a crime, injustice, a learning?

Notice the texture so that you can detect how your brain is interpreting this event. That is the beginning of creating an experience you want to have and managing your own state of mind.

2. Find the Trigger

When you have a heightened response to somebody or some event, it is usually because it reminds you of something that you possibly have an aversion to, usually found in your mental database from the past. So just go find the trigger by asking yourself, what it reminds you of and name it. When you name it, you are on the way to clarity.

So if the situation reminds you of something from the past, notice what your brain did with it, it probably went into a self-talk about it and stepped into the “flight or flight mode”, just like the event it reminded you of. When you know what it’s triggering, you can train yourself to spot the old trigger running. Is it time to update you trigger event to a more positive trigger? This may be the trigger to choose a more favourable and helpful pro-active response.

3. Articulate the Meaning

The meanings you give to anything are what is making you respond the way you do. If you have a meaning and a value-system operating that people and events should operate in a certain way, according to your perceptions, you will feel at odds with yourself, when you run into an event you don’t like.

So ask yourself What meaning am I giving to this and how is it affecting me, when I give it that meaning?” Then put a time questions on it  “Will this matter in 1 year, 2 years, 5 years or 20 years?” What else could it mean and if you can find a positive meaning, that will certainly help you move from this? eg. This is teaching me how much I value X, or care about” Find 3-5 new meanings beyond the orginal meaning. This will help you tap into your creative brain and rewire the meaning so you can learn from it and handle it differently the next time.

4. Find the Reflection

If you are only perceiving, then your response is only mirroring to you, how you have run this experience through your mind. If your response is angry, then how aware are you of how easy it is to anger you. I always think it’s useful to reflect on what happened and how you were in that situation.

If  it activates emotions of fear, anger or resentment, then this is the reflection piece on your own perceptions. What is this reflecting to me about myself and my need for certainty? And how would you like to feel in a similar situation?

If you can do this, you will begin to find new ways of working with similar situations. E.g. if somebody is offensive in your eyes, a way to reframe it is “ I respect myself enough here to voice my concerns in a constructive way” This person may or may not be aware of what they are doing, and they are looking for some result here that you cannot give them. What if I asked them exactly wha they need right now so that we can move on from this”? That way your brain goes into solution mode instead of problem state.

5. Change the Movie

Watching the same movie over and over again is really not the most uplifting thing, unless it is an experience you loved. Replaying and event I have learned only deepens the negative meanings, so to ensure your find a way to improve your chances of having more positive experiences, is to change the movie and change the script.

By changing the colour and sounds in your movie you can change everything. If you watch it like a cartoon of human craziness and tell yourself, “next time I am just going to be a Zen master when this happens, knowing that I am self-aware, then it’s going to very different.” You’d never go to see a bad movie, twice, yet people replay their past experiences and events over and over and figure some how  they are going to find happiness there.

Like every habit, 30 days of using this tool, will increase your self-awareness and give you a tool to handle the challenges in your life. It is never the event, but your response and replay of the event that is your greatest challenge to overcome. It is an on-going practice even for the Zen masters of the world.

 Summary of 5 Steps:

  1. Notice the mental movie you are running
  2. Find the trigger for running the mental movie this way
  3. Articulate the meaning that’s true for you
  4. Find the reflection for learning
  5. Change the movie and how you see it

Building Self Confidence

The Most Popular Topic in Coaching

The start of any coaching conversation starts with a question. This is followed by more questions. It becomes an exploration. It is about getting to the heart of what somebody desires in their life, their work, their career, business and their relationships with others. I often say to people ‘A coach will ask you questions you don’t often ask yourself.’

It often takes you down avenues you never thought possible. That is the beauty of this type of conversation. So many things can be uncovered and explored in the safety of sacred, safe conversations. Anything is possible when you commit to growing in a coaching conversation.

Where the journey starts

People often decided they want to work with coach. They look to get someone outside, impartial, who has some skills that can help them get clear on some area of their life.  The list varies from a career change, going for a job interview, starting a business, being better at public speaking, a better sales person, a better manager and even a better parent. There is no subject that doesn’t show up for discussion. The reason is simple; you are not just your job, your career or your business. Your life and who you are shows up when you choose to work with a professional. They are just expressions of you. So the questions asked can often be about how you operate in life and it can end up as a conversation about your life.

Why does confidence as a topic show up so much?

As a person who loves noticing patterns and how they shape people’s lives, jobs and self-concept, I started of course to notice a pattern. The single theme that seems to come up over and over is this idea of having more self-confidence to take a risk and do something different. People will say things like “I’d like to have more confidence in myself to do or be X.” Indeed, when you read this question, I am sure you have an area where you’d like a way of building confidence. So let’s look at what that means.

The interesting thing is, people start with a challenge or a desire to change. Once the conversation begins, they begin to get insights into themselves and get to the place of realising that the challenge was a symptom of something else they were seeking, deeper inside themselves.  This can be expressed in many ways; such as feeling more at ease or having the guts to do something they’ve always wanted to do.

Everybody thrives on confidence

“So why can’t I just have confidence?” you might ask. You can! You just have to know how to “do” confidence. Confidence has structure to it. Confidence has reference points to what you have done before. They can be positive or negative. One black-and-white way to look at it is this; you will never try something again because you think you failed the first time.  Or, you will give it a shot and see how it goes, because you learned from it and can improve, if you try it again. There is truth in the ‘fake it until you make it’ idea. The risk-takers and people who look at the options will always give it one more shot. These are the people are more likely to build and expand their confidence. It them becomes the place they function from. And from there, they develop the skill of knowing how to build confidence.

Where does a lack of confidence come from?

Confidence is a multi-layered state, is how I can best describe it.  It’s a combination of knowing enough and believing enough that you can do or be something.  So why does a ‘perceived’ lack of confidence show up in coaching so often and how can you build confidence in yourself? Here are a few things to help you explore your own confidence in areas of your life and why we often find it hard to do confidence. Here are the key things I have noticed.

Using the past as a reference

This is where we did something once. It didn’t go well. We decided we would never do it again. If this is true for you, think of times where you did something similar and felt well-able to do it. An example I have is, a client I was coaching around his leadership skills, which he needed to demonstrate in a second-round group interview. He had completely missed the fact that he had been team captain on the sports pitch for years. He didn’t make the connection unti we had the conversation. Once we captured all he did well there, we translated it across to the group interview, which secured him the job. He was looking in the wrong places and not mapping across his skills to lead a team of men to sporting victories of which there were many.

Using other people’s points of view

This is a big one. What will other people think? Many times we don’t take the risk because we are pleasing some invisible “authority figure” from the past, present or further. This I describe as the judgement of ourselves through the imagined negative judgements of others. I hear this often said to me in a coaching session “you probably think it’s crazy, but…” I don’t, in fact, because I am too busy listening and hearing what you are saying.

What if you dared greatly and tried something new?  At least you gave it a shot. What if you did what other people wouldn’t dare to do? It builds a stock of experiences to create your own reference points of view. An example I give to people when preparing presentations for public speaking is to practice reading aloud to get used to the sound of your own voice. If you have children, even better! You have no excuse then, to at least create your own internal point of view to build that confidence you need in this situation.

Using the fear of failure or losing face

Failure is an interesting concept preceded by the question and conclusion, ‘but what if I fail? I don’t want to fail.’ So question to that is. ‘What if you never try at all? What if you are missing out on a great experience or a new way of being because you were afraid of failure?’  Failure can mean that you didn’t have the skills or resources you needed at them time to make things work. Losing face is rooted in an expectation and functions from a place of perfection. It is about seeking to meet the unrealistic expectations you want others to have of you. A great example is the perfect social media profile; nobody sees the faux pas, the mistakes and the bad days we all have every now and again.

How much more human we would be without these judgements? So the question now is, ‘do you have the confidence to try something and learn that there must be a better way to do it?’ Just like Thomas Edison’s answer to the 10,000 light bulbs experiments. Instead of seeing it as a failure, he learned 9,999 ways ‘not to make a light bulb’. This is a great example of a reframed point of view. If you can reframe failure, your confidence will certainly grow. Do it often and you will be building that confidence-muscle.

Using an outdated perception of yourself

I often ask clients where they got their idea of themselves as not able to do something and who they bought it from. Within reason or course. If you don’t have the right vocal chords to be an opera singer, no amount of confidence is going to change that! We spend our formative years and early working years being given lots of points of view of ourselves. We start to believe them as fixed and immutable.

Everybody can change and does change over the years. So next time you decide that you can’t do something, think about how old that idea of yourself is. Did you get it from a school teacher, a parent, a school friend? People carry fixed ideas of about you and what were like in the past. Are you buying them as being locked into a one-time event or a time in your life when you didn’t have the experiences you have now?  Having the confidence to update who you are and let people see that you have indeed grown and changed is one way to keep recreating a new version of you every day. We all need an upgrade. Ask any software company! This is another way to give yourself more confidence. You have infinite possibilities to change and become more than you are today and next week. You have to keep asking better questions.

Confidence is built over time, but you can tap into it by asking yourself quality questions.

So here are four to consider next time you have that nagging doubt that you don’t have the confidence to take a risk.

  1. What time in my life am I stuck in that stopping me from trying this?
  2. Whose version of success or failure am I functioning from?
  3. What if I took steps to build a pathway for others and show them a way?
  4. What story am I telling myself about not being able to do this?

 

Want to learn more on about subject? Read this article What does a coach do?

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