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Personal Leadership: Dealing with people you find challenging

Everyone deals with difficult people in their lives – teachers, colleagues, bosses…even friends and family. With so much practice, one would think dealing with the unpleasant encounters would become easier. Unfortunately, most of us struggle with anger, sadness and confusion when confronted with rude and unwarranted behavior. These emotions may get triggered even when we know an encounter will be challenging – once ignited, they can build momentum and deeply affect our health and wellbeing. If difficult people are inevitable, how can we protect ourselves? As the articles listed below discuss, the answer may lie in working with our own perceptions and emotions rather than avoiding confrontations.

No Avoidance. In “Dealing with Difficult People: 5 Effective, Compassionate Practices,”  producer and co-host of “The Possible Podcast”, Elizabeth Young addresses our desire to avoid difficult people and experiences. Though avoidance is a natural reaction, it doesn’t get us very far. Instead, she urges us to employ specific tools to meet the challenge head-on, ultimately to our own benefit:

“…a difficult person is an opportunity to grow. No matter what we are presented with in life, we have an opportunity to choose more or less responsibility. Remembering that true responsibility is our ability to respond in the moment.

“Of course, this takes practice and is not easy. However, as we take more and more responsibility for our life, circumstances and people lose their power over us. We learn to choose our responses moment by moment, no longer being dragged around by emotions, thoughts, or circumstances created by another or our self.”

Examine your Realty. One of the most difficult things about challenging people is our inability to change their behavior. This can leave us feeling powerless. Luckily, we do have power over our own actions and perceptions – our very sense of reality. As Tony Schwartz, author of “Be Excellent at Anything,” points out in “The Secret to Dealing with Difficult People: It’s About You” in the Harvard Business Review, we can adopt certain lenses for determining reality – the lens of realistic optimism, the reverse lens, and the long lens.

Don’t Get Hooked. We have little control over avoiding conflict, but we can choose how long we let it affect us. Buddhist author and teacher Pema Chödrön writes extensively about shenpa, the Tibetan term for attachment. If an unpleasant interaction triggers shenpa, it can quickly spin out of control, resulting in long-term stress and suffering.  “In How We Get Hooked and How We Get Unhooked,” she helps us recognize shenpa with the goal of stopping the cycle before it starts:

“When we talk about refraining from the shenpa, we’re not talking about trying to cast it out; we’re talking about trying to see the shenpa clearly and experiencing it. If we can see shenpa just as we’re starting to close down, when we feel the tightening, there’s the possibility of catching the urge to do the habitual thing, and not doing it.”

Karmic Challenge. Buddhism urges the acceptance of all things, even the negative. As Reiki healer and meditation teacher Alan Crawford writes in “To Protect or to Accept: A Buddhist response to Negativity”:

“These negative circumstances and negative people provide us with a test. Nothing ever goes away until it has taught us what we need to know. It is easy to accept pleasant people and circumstance, but practicing acceptance with regards to people and circumstance that we find difficult or challenging is a true path to spiritual growth and transcending the ego.”

While of course none of this is easy, we have a lifetime to practice. Read more at MindBody Green.

Published on Nov 19 09 : 00 am