“Margaret, you share with us these great tips for treating people with compassion. You make sense when you remind us that other people’s behavior is about them. But how are we supposed to really do this in the real world? Especially when someone is right in my face and I just want to yell at them?”
Not only is that a fair and honest question, it is one I hear frequently. If treating others with compassion was easy to do all of the time, almost everyone would do it all of the time. So with that in mind, here are some tips to consider:
1) Select ONE person who is difficult for you and concentrate your efforts on this ONE person.
2) Do not select your absolute most challenging person to work on first. Weight lifters don’t bench press 300 pounds right away, they work up to it. Why should you be any different?
3) Take some time and think about this person. Come up with at least three good qualities they possess or three positive statements that you can make about them. OK, now here is where the difficulty might begin. If this person is truly annoying to you, you might not be able to see any good in them. Well I insist that you stay at this step until you can complete it! Some ideas:
- They have family and friends who love them
- They are offering you an opportunity for personal growth
- They are good at (fill on the blank – working out, public speaking, product design…)
4) Now associate their name with the three good qualities or positive statements you have for them. Memorize this information in a statement that is easy for you to repeat to yourself, like this:
- Difficult Dan is a loving father who adores his children, organizes the company blood drive every year and is giving me an opportunity to become even better at dealing with difficult people.
5) Next time you encounter Difficult Dan (or your difficult person), remember the statement you memorized about them. If you know you are going to encounter them, then repeat the statement to yourself before the encounter. This puts you in a positive frame of mind and you are approaching them thinking about their good qualities, not their bad qualities. While you are with person, keep your positive statement in your mind and when they annoy you or become difficult, keep recalling this statement. (Silently and to yourself, of course!)
6) If you feel yourself becoming agitated with your difficult person, try to take a deep breath and again repeat the positive statement to yourself before you respond to them. Then recall that you want to move forward with compassion and that this person’s behavior is not about you, it is about them and finally, you only control your behavior.
When your encounter with this difficult person ends, be appreciative. I don’t just mean appreciative as-in; “I am so glad that jerk is out of my face.” I mean appreciative as-in recognizing that this person is really bringing you an opportunity to grow. And if the encounter went well, be appreciative of your growth. If you don’t think the encounter went well give yourself credit for your efforts and DO NOT GIVE UP! You must be persistent to prevail.
To borrow from some other famous groups and philosophies, you do this one day at a time and one step at a time.
PS. Click here for more support in Dealing with Difficult People.