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:
- Notice the mental movie you are running
- Find the trigger for running the mental movie this way
- Articulate the meaning that’s true for you
- Find the reflection for learning
- Change the movie and how you see it