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The Secret of Dealing with Difficult People: It’s About You

| November 29, 2011

by Jim Bruce

Today’s reading “The Secret of Dealing with Difficult People:  It’s About You” comes from Tony Schwartz’s blog at the Harvard Business Review.  Schwartz is the president and CEO of The Energy Project and the author of Be Excellent At Anything. 

Almost everyone of us has someone who routinely triggers us.  It may be the cynic in your group.  It could be someone who doesn’t listen.  Or, someone who takes credit for your work.  And the list is endless.

A core emotional need we each have is to feel valued and valuable.  When we don’t, it’s easy to feel threatened.  And, when we feel devalued, it’s easy to default to the role of a victim.  Schwartz says that when you take the role of the victim, you surrender your power to influence the situation.

He also notes that when it comes to the people who trigger you, you are not going to change them.  The only person you have a possibility of changing is yourself.

We each have a default lens through which we view the world.  Call it reality.  But, it is a very selective lens, one that we individually have carefully designed and built for our personal use over our lifetime.  Swartz suggests three alternative lens we can use when we find ourselves defaulting to negative emotions:

1.  The Lens of Realistic Optimism.  To look through this lens, you ask yourself two questions:  What are the facts of the situation?  What’s the story I’m telling myself about these facts?  These questions allow you to stand outside your experience.  It also allows you to see alternate stories that fit the facts.  As you explore the alternate stories, you may find one that, while satisfying all the facts, actually better serves your purposes.

2.  The Reverse Lens.  Here you view the situation through the lens of your antagonist.  Doing this will widen your perspective, since the individual you are finding difficult sees the situation differently than you do.  With the reverse lens, ask yourself “What is the person feeling?  In what way does it make sense?  And then, what’s my responsibility here?”  Counterintuitively, a powerful way to reclaim your value when you feel threatened is to find a way to appreciate the perspective of the person you feel devalued by.  This is empathy.

3.  The Long Lens.  Sometimes your worst fears are indeed true.  The long lens provides a way to look beyond the present to imagine a better future.  “How can I grow and learn from this experience?”

So, the next time a difficult person comes your way, take a look through these three lenses and broaden your perspective.


Have a great week.  .  .  .    jim


P.S.  These three lens can also provide constructive information if you are the individual pulling the trigger.