On dealing with difficult people
This, as I believe I have said before, is a tired old saw where I work. If Senior Management want Middle Management to excel in any given area and if a measure of what that area might be can be deduced from the training that is provided, even Doctor Watson would see that the area of Dealing with Difficult People is the area du jour.
As I sit in these training sessions, I more often than not end up secretly thinking, “What a big pile of hairy bollocks this is.”
Simply put, people are not difficult. People, despite our occasional moments of despair, are not something we deal with. The thing that causes our hackles to rise and our blood to boil is more often than not our perception of the tricky little blighters. Not the tricky little blighters themselves. Are you following me?
Yesterday, I took a phone call from a junior member of our Senior Management Team. This person is adept in the use of passive-aggressive approaches to management. Ostensibly, she was ringing up to tell me that I had not filled in a particular document correctly. I had committed the cardinal sin of using last week’s official logo, not this week’s. This could not be said directly, though…oooohhhhh noooooo! Instead, it needed to be alluded to. At least a million emails had been sent, I was told, reminding everyone how to use the new logo. Implicit was the message that only a fucking idiot could have forgotten. Later, when I asked about a particular requirement, I got a response that was delivered in a tone that implied, “What the actual fuck? Are you seriously telling me that you don’t know this? Could you even be any more fucking useless?” I had to listen to this for a while before the individual concerned actually deigned to tell me the answer. It was almost like, “You want to know X? I can’t believe you don’t already know it! Really? Do you really want to know X? Well, you already know it so what would be the point in me telling you?” I WOULDN’T ASK IF I KNEW, FOR FUCH’S SAKE!
In short, my capacity to believe that there are no difficult people was really being tested here. Ditto my capacity to maintain professional norms and not just tell the other person to take a flying jump. But, I am the model of professionalism. My lips remained tightly drawn and shut. Which felt painful. For my sins, I labour under the illusion that I am always right and that my mistakes must always be excused. I hate to be told off. I resent any implication that I am not good. It creates a powerful vortex of anger in my chest that whirls around and sucks in all my concentration. I don’t know why I am like this. But I do know I am. Does the why actually matter?
So, what did I do? Go home and beat the dog? Swear at the conductor on the train? Drive like a demon possessed and cause a traffic accident? Nope. I opened Penzu and wrote a reflection. In the reflection I conceded that I should have known how to use the Logo Of The Day…I mean, how is it possible to forget the content of one million emails? Ultimately, it would have been unfair (although helpful too) to expect the person concerned to rectify my error by switching logos. And her pointing out my idiocy to me will almost definitely ensure that I do not make the same mistake again. The vortex switched off with a gloopy farting noise.
Reflection number 2 highlighted the source of my anger. I wasn’t angry with SMT Member. I was angry because SMT Member did not meet my expectations of how people should be. In my world, people should not be passive-aggressive. They should treat one another with respect at all times and should never seek to blame, but always to enlighten. They should understand that everyone is trying to do their best (or at least believes that they are) and if their best falls short, it will only make matters worse if you throw their shortcomings in their face. They should seek to help people who make mistakes and be clear that it is the mistake which needs to be corrected, not the poor sap who made it.
In short, I live in fecking La-La land.
In reality, I know that we are all capable of being arseholes. We all wind people up. We all behave inappropriately. We all suffer from our own neuroses and poorly thought out actions. So, to get upset about how someone speaks to us is hardly the way forward. Invariably, we would be better off focussing on the content of what they are saying and overlooking the manner in which they are saying it. In this case, the message was: please use the correct form. I could live with that.
What about the OMFG! I can’t believe you asked that!!!OK…that was a weird response to a question. But in the end, I got a response. How the person answered my question was not important. What was important was that they answered the bloody thing. I could choose to get upset at being made to feel like an idiot, or I could choose not to worry about it, safe in the knowledge that at times I probably am a little bit slow on the uptake. If life is all about seeking out the causes of suffering and annihilating them, the latter is probably the better option.
There are no difficult people, but there are ways of reacting to people that can cause you difficulties. As a manager, it behoves me to try to develop my capacity to empathise. Sometimes, this means accepting that people behave in ways that are at odds with my expectations of how people should behave. What needs to change here are my expectations, not the individuals concerned. I don’t have to deal with people…I have to deal with myself. At times, that can be difficult.