I have seen my share of difficult people in my 50 years on the planet and I don’t think I am alone in saying that they exist. Right?
But sometimes difficult people are in our lives for a reason, or at least that is how I like to rationalise it all.
I tend to flip a difficult person on their head in my mind and instead of seeing them as someone I don’t want in my life, I see them as a puzzle that one must solve. A puzzle of understanding.
In his book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Dr Stephen Covey shares the concept Seek first to understand and then to be understood. He then goes on to tell the story of a man and his children who got on the train he was riding. The man sat down next to him and the children spent the next part of the train journey mucking up and being noisy and obnoxious. Dr Covey could see that people were reacting to the children with looks of disapproval, so he struck up a conversation with the man, asking him about his day. The man then revealed that they had just come from his wife’s funeral. Suddenly the behaviours of the children were given context and understanding changed attitude.
Ever since I read that book that story has really stuck with me – such a huge life wisdom in that one statement.
Now when I am confronted with a difficult person in my life, I make the choice to try to see things from their perspective. Doesn’t mean that I have to agree with their position – just merely that I understand it and through understanding it, quite often, I experience a shift in me.
Often we expel so much energy in our outrage that someone would be so difficult and how we are feeling that we don’t take the time to recognise what might be going on for the other person.
I met a woman many years ago when I was doing my first week of work in a new job. I brought some work for her boss to sign off on. She looked at the work and scolded me for incorrect formatting. Being the first week on the job there was no way that I could have known my error, but she wasn’t to know that I was new. My first impression was that she was a difficult person and I felt repelled. But something inside of me took her on as a puzzle to be understood.
Over the next few months, I was given an opportunity to work upstairs where she worked. In fact, I was given her job to cover while she was on leave. Upon her return, I was given the seat next to hers to cover the girl next to her who went on leave. It was during this time that I started to get context for her life. She was struggling as a single parent, with a teenager who was giving her grief. Her days were spent working and worrying about him. Understanding her context I was then able to be compassionate.
The beautiful end to this story is that person became a lifelong friend who has been like an Aunty to all of my children, attending births, birthdays, Easter and Christmas celebrations. She is someone I HIGHLY value in my life. I could quite easily have written her off and missed the diamond hidden within the stone.
Perspective can change in an instant, if you open your heart to another’s viewpoint.
Next time you are faced with a difficult person, ask yourself the question, “What is this about?” “What is going on for them in their world that they are reacting like this?” Chances are, they are living through some really dark moments.