Last weekend, I pulled out my copy of “The Secret Lives of Men and Women”, a compilation of anonymous postcards, each one sharing a personal secret. Some of the secrets are sad, some are funny, some are filled with hope, some are rather horrifying and some I could have written.
It’s a reminder that behind the public face of the people we meet every day is a history we don’t know. And without that knowledge, it’s easy to take the public persona at face value. We don’t know the experiences that shaped the person in front of us.
Some angry, aggressive people create a persona designed to instill fear in others. Their behaviour is a protection mechanism. They hide their insecurities and low self-esteem by giving people a good reason not to get close. Or perhaps they communicate that way because that’s how they have been spoken to.
Passive-aggressive behaviour can be a result of being taught to always turn the other cheek, of being told not to complain or voice frustration or unhappiness. So, instead of speaking their mind, they put on their happy, agreeable face and express their frustration or sense of helplessness through subtle jabs or sneaky behaviour.
Learning how to maneuver this labyrinth of potential conflict is not easy. Some tips to dealing with a difficult personality are:
Stay calm. Recognize words, phrases or actions that set you off. Chances are the people around you know what they are and may use them to distract you. By identifying your hot buttons ahead of time, you’ll be prepared for them.
Don’t judge. We all have our foibles, our weaknesses and our insecurities. Some people have learned how to manage those insecurities better than others. Remember, you don’t know their history.
Focus on the main issue. Some people will try to pull in details to divert you from the real issue. Or they may try to shut down the conversation with phrases like “It was just a joke.” Don’t let that happen.
Watch your voice and mannerisms. Resisting the urge to shout is important. At the same time, make sure your body language isn’t shouting controlled rage. Take a deep breath, make eye contact and physically relax your body.
Choose your words carefully. Don’t blame, don’t accuse, don’t demean and don’t interpret. “I” messaging is a great technique to let someone know how we feel about a given behaviour without putting someone down.
What are some techniques you use?