What choices do people make when dealing with difficult people? Most of us will simply stuff it because we don’t like to deal with conflict, or else we’ll strike back with force and emotion. It may depend on who we are dealing with. We may not risk it with the boss or peers, due to some element of fear or discomfort, but then unload on others. Depending on the intensity of the transaction, we’ll then go home with a troubled disposition and infect our families with our ill emotions. Whatever happens at work, we take home. This is why organizational leaders must deliberately attend to the business culture, to ensure that both wholesome relationships and teamwork are being properly cultivated.
So, how do we address the difficult person with their frequent challenges? It starts by anticipating and planning for these inevitable events. We are taken off guard only when we have improper expectations and lack of preparation. Sound relationships will always be the biggest challenge in the workplace, therefore developing clear communication skills will be most important. Daniel Goleman, in his writings on emotional intelligence, describes the need for emotional self-awareness: the ability to know what’s going on inside of us, providing insights that contribute to the language we use with others. If we can articulate what we are actually feeling while maintaining composure, it helps us to manage disturbing emotions and therefore our relationships with others. It’s an influence skill.
The professional who understands and successfully develops emotional self-awareness, has executive presence. He or she will never let a situation pass by that can be addressed directly, in the moment, and bring resolution. When we bury our emotions and avoid the conversation, or, use the conversation as an opportunity to vent, we will only cause harm to ourselves and those around us. To grow in this competency, we must pause to understand what’s happening within us, and put language to disturbing emotions. We then craft those feelings into nonjudgmental language, usually in the form of a question. “What you just said makes me feel like I’m being accused, and it’s creating some internal frustration—what message are you really trying to convey?” Staying in the game and promoting dialog through discovery-based questioning usually produces more clarity and understanding, resolving the issue peacefully. When executed well, we feel good and then go home with a positive feeling rather than negative emotions. Imagine an evening with the family under this scenario.
In all aspects of life, we have the choice whether to engage in a wholesome manner, or to drop into one of two aspects of unwholesome behavior, that is, abuse or abandonment. In the above example, to say nothing at all creates an undercurrent that doesn’t go away and it will manifest itself as a toxic environment in our homes. This is abandonment. On the other hand, if we use negative emotions in a combative way, we are sure to make more challenging enemies, and create messy problems that will leak into our family life. This is abuse. The only real way to resolve issues and create emotional balance in ourselves is to take the wholesome approach.
Coaching questions: What’s your first reaction when dealing with a difficult person or a toxic circumstance? What steps can you take to employ a more wholesome approach? Write your answers in your journal.