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The truth is we really have no idea why people do what they do until we ask. But what if, despite all your efforts, you keep meeting resistance? What if all the evidence shows that it really is the other person? There is a tale from India about a group of blind men who touch an elephant to learn what it's like. Each one touches a different part and they compare notes and then they learn that they're in complete disagreement about the nature of the elephant. Well, when you're not successful in solving a problem with a difficult person, you could be dealing with incomplete information.
So, let's investigate the hidden interest that might lie beneath the surface with difficult people. Let's say Jack thinks Heather is a difficult person. He believes she doesn't support his goals and aspirations, never carries forward his salary requests, and believes she micromanages his every move. What Jack doesn't know is that Heather may have hidden constraints, hidden stakeholders, or decision-makers, or hidden interests or thwarted values.
Heather may be hindered by the constraints of HR policies, or she may not have the authority to meet Jack's request because the company stakeholders, the executive team have put the clamp on spending. So here's how you get under the hood. First, clarify confusion. As soon as you notice you're losing track of the conversation, acknowledge that you may be missing something or that you're confused about the reasoning behind something. You could be talking past one another, and you need to pause and ask for clarity.
When you understand why someone is resistant or irritable, it will usually point you in the direction of a solution. If your conflict partner is angry because they're misinformed, your job will be to inform them. If they're angry because they feel disrespected, your job is to respect them. If they're frustrated because they misunderstood something you said, your job is to clarify and correct the misunderstanding. Next, summarize your conflicting stories and harmonize your differences.
When we get locked in conflict, we are usually bound tight to our story. We point to circumstances and conversations and past events and provide all kinds of evidence to support our story, and your conflict partner does the same. If you can see clearly enough, you can summarize your conflicting stories and make an effort to adopt a new story. You can parse out where you're an agreement and where you have shared values and goals. You can then use those shared values as your guiding principles in your resolution process.
Bottom line: don't let your assumptions and interpretations of people and events run away with you. Go to the source and seek clarity. Dealing with difficult people is really about understanding what else might be operating underneath. Uncovering hidden motives, summarizing conflicting stories, and harmonizing your differences has a potential silver lining. Your perception that your conflict partner is a difficult person may transform completely.
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