Do you find yourself asking yourself these questions after being with somebody you care about?
“Are you even listening to me?”
“What a lot of drama. Is everything always such a big deal?”
“You’re judging me? I thought we were closer than that.”
“How rude can you get?”
“Is everybody else wrong? Are you the only person who is right?”
If so, it’s possible that you are in relationship with a difficult person. Whether it is a spouse, work colleague, family member, or old friend, this person is causing difficulty for you. It’s hard to enjoy the relationship.
If you have shared some intimacy, been vulnerable with them, shared a secret, it is doubly hard. Trust is threatened. You question the relationship.
It might interest you to know that most difficult people are unaware of the behavior others find difficult.
I thought I was passionate; others found me argumentative.
I thought I was presenting alternatives; my colleagues thought I was trying to show up their ideas.
I thought I was being logical and detailed; my family found me a controlling, bossy b****.
The challenge is that difficult people don’t always know they are difficult and they keep doing what they are doing; it’s a habit. Because of this, and the negative habits, we don’t usually want to talk to them about it.
We fear their reaction. A difficult person often exhibits one or more of the following Deadly Behaviors, as identified by Dr. William Glasser, founder of Choice Theory. They are criticizing, complaining, judging, gossiping, nagging, blaming, being defensive, threatening, punishing, and bribing to control.
Are you feeling bullied? Does the difficult person in your life blame others for mistakes or misunderstandings?
What to do? We can sense the relationships eroding. We call them toxic relationships. We decide to administer “benign neglect” by seeing them less and less and avoiding intimate conversations when we do see them.
Is that what we want? Do we care about the other?
Looking for an alternative?
Take these steps:
First, look at the concrete doing behavior that you observe and experience. What do you see the other person do and hear the other person say? Can you take your emotional judgments out of the equation? For example, what words or actions did you deem rude?
Second, can you believe that the other person is not deliberately trying to anger you? Can you see them as someone who has developed a really bad habit that nobody has ever taken the time and compassion to point out?
Third, are you interested enough in their humanity and the relationship that used to be good? Can you stick around when they are initially angry or hurt when you talk to them?
If you can answer yes to these, then:
Four is to have an honest, caring conversation with your difficult person. Set up a good amount of time, describe what you hear, and see the other person doing and how it impacts you. Ask them if that is what they want. Tell them you don’t believe they get up each morning thinking of ways to infuriate you. They are probably unaware of the impact of their behavior.
Finally, hang in there with a loud, emotional reaction or when the other person blows it off, “I don’t mean anything by it.” Stay with your main point: you want a relationship and find it difficult when the other is constantly criticizing or complains all the time or argues with everything you say. Ask again, “Do you really want to have this impact on others – on me?”
Have a conversation, not a confrontation. They may blow up; you can stay calm. You aren’t angry; you are looking for peace and a changed behavior. You want a relationship with them.
Hang in there. It may not bring an immediate change, but if you remain composed and caring, there will be more understanding and awareness.