Being difficult and being yourself

May 29, 2010

I’ve been reading, as perhaps you have as well, that happiness lies in having friendships and collegial relationships, and not in having excess money or in acquiring things. This is not a recent discovery. The Greek philosopher Epicurus, in about 307 BCE, taught that having an emotional connection with other people was a requirement for true happiness.

It makes sense, therefore, that knowing how to have and to be a friend and colleague should be one of the skills we learn as children. Usually socializing and interacting with other children teaches us the skills for getting along well with people, but not always. Some children have experiences that make it difficult for them as adults to have connections with others. And, realistically, everyone can– not– get along with everyone else. There will always be someone we’d rather not call a friend. Still, we are hard-wired to want to connect and get along with people, even with the difficult ones.

At a recent workshop on dealing with difficult people, one of the participants confessed that at work she was one of the difficult people others had to deal with. She didn’t want to be difficult. She just didn’t know how to release the friend and colleague that she knew was inside her, which others weren’t seeing. She felt internal conflict with herself over how she wanted to relate to people in the ordinary way that others seemed to and still be her unique self. How, she asked, could she change to be like everyone else so that people liked her, without selling out what she liked about herself?

Change is never easy, so we started with the simple few things we could do. Changing one thing would set off a chain reaction because everything is connected to everything else. We identified three conflict management techniques for connecting with others in a satisfying and– authentic– way. Adding those to our repertoire won’t change our unique personalities. However, they could change the nature of our relationships – for the better. The three conflict management skills we discussed are:

  1. using questions to move from positions to interests;
  2. understanding conflict management styles so that she uses the one that’s appropriate for the situation; and
  3. matching the level of conversation (was the level about facts, emotions or identity?) of the other person so that the discussion is about the same thing.

Difficult people are hard to get to know so assumptions about them often substitute for understanding them.– If we use the conflict management skills, it won’t guarantee others will like us. It will mean they won’t consider us difficult to deal with, and that means they get to know us and from there can decide if they like us or not.

Filed Under: Conflict Competence      

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