What If The Other Person is a Bully, Lying, or Trying to Derail
While it does happen, most of our evaluations about the other person are off. If we think the other person is acting this way, we are usually wrong.
But if it is the case:
- Do not reward bad behavior.
- Don’t play the game by reacting. Don’t reciprocate either.
- Still attempt to understand why they think their actions are justified. Do not simplify with “Bad person” types of explanations. They usually have a justification they tell themselves about their behavior. Find it.
Do not give in unless you care little about the outcome or you need an immediate action.
- Try naming the dynamic and having a conversation about it (they may change their tactic, at which point you name that dynamic).
- Then talk about its impact on you - do not let the other party argue about what is right. They have no say on how you feel.
- Then ask for a change in behavior.
- Then clarify what will happen if the behavior doesn’t change.
Right or wrong has no role in this discussion. What will or won’t work does.
What If The Other Person is Genuinely Difficult, or Even Mentally Ill?
Some people really are more difficult than others.
Some problems (obsessive compulsive, addicts) do have internal logic. Their behavior is solving some problem - perhaps not solving it well or perhaps solving a different problem.
You need to try to understand their internal logic, no matter how bizarre.
Some people fall into a nasty positive feedback loop that is hard to break out of.
Always keep in mind: You cannot guarantee an outcome. You cannot make people change.
You should never define success by what others did (or what you made them do). That’s setting yourself up for aggravation.
Distinguish between helping and fixing.
For some people, negative interaction is better than no interaction. So if someone is continually nasty, consider whether this is the cause.
Look for blind spots. Stuff the difficult person doesn’t see but everyone else does. Three common ones:
- Tone of voice
- Facial expressions
- Body language
A person may think he is being nice, but it may not be reflected in these blind spots.
If someone claims X is true and it doesn’t seem to be, it can be useful to ask: What if X is true? What does that mean to you? This is a good way to explore the problem, and can highlight identity issues.
Always consider your contribution. Don’t just put it on the other person. If someone resists acknowledging their contribution, it may be their identity is at stake. Help them frame it so they can preserve their identity.
But be patient! The other person may come around, but it may take a long time. Don’t quit early. It is often the case where someone gives up on another just around the time the other is willing to change.
How Does This Work With Someone Who Has All The Power - Like My Boss?
Acknowledge that they are the ultimate decision maker. Send signals of your acknowledgment. They then are more receptive to listening. Then tell them what matters to you and why. Emphasize its importance to you.
The language of contribution may not help here. Change to the language of request. Instead of “Part of the reason I could not get it done is that you gave it to me on Friday afternoon”, say “To make sure this won’t happen again, we’ve identified 3 things to do differently.” Identify it and explore its feasibility.
Ensure you listen and signal that you are listening. Point out how it will benefit them.
Find out the gap: Why does he think it’s a good idea and you don’t? What information does he have?
What if he refuses to listen? Read the book on this part.
If the person is abusive or a bully, the standard route shouls be not to tolerate them - no matter how valuable their contribution is. Such people trigger identity issues. Realize this. See if their feedback has objective merit.
Ask yourself: What are my alternatives? What value do I get by staying? Leaving is extreme, but at times it is warranted. Consider intermediate solutions.
If I’m The Boss/Parent, Why Can’t I Tell My Subordinates/Children What To Do?
Obviously, not everyone should have an equal say. Authority roles are valuable sometimes.
But distinguish between: Commanding vs consulting, negotiating, delegating. And then signal clearly which of the 4 you are doing.
You can tell people what to do, but that strategy may not work. When it doesn’t, explore why (e.g. contribution).
You have the right to tell your kids not to drink and drive. But don’t end the conversation there. Get to know your kid’s thoughts/feelings. This does not mean you are negotiating the rule.
Use the and stance. But state up front if the decision is final. (Note from me: Many people refuse to discuss further if they are told the decision is final: “The other person doesn’t want to listen - he just wants to tell me.”)
What About Conversations That Aren’t Face to Face? Email, Phone, etc
If there is a conflict via email, assume email will not solve it. Pick up the phone and talk!
Email: Be explicit about intentions, reasoning and if necessary/appropriate, your emotions.
If you cannot respond immediately, send note saying you won’t and preferably, when.
Why Do You Advise People To Bring Feelings Into The Workplace? Shouldn’t Business Decisions Be Made On Merit?
Feelings can dominate productivity. Why leave them out?
Keep timing in mind, though. When to bring up feelings is relevant.
You can talk about emotions without being emotional.
Perhaps emotions shouldn’t play a role in decision making. But keep in mind that discussing them actually limits their role in decision making. Not expressing them can ensure they interfere.
Who Has Time For All This In The Real World?
This is taking up time whether you like it or not.
Many of these conversations can be quick, and having them early may save much more time in the future.
You should be patient, but you are also allowed to give up past a certain point. Giving up is not a failure. It is (or should be) due to a cost-benefit analysis.