Whenever I start a new contract, I am always prepared to be challenged. When I say a challenge, I’m referring not only to the task in hand, but also the people I will be working with. Over the years, I’ve learnt that this comes with the territory and have found ways to quickly get to grips with who works where and with whom. I also know that learning how best to work with new personalities can take a little longer. But what happens if this continues to be a challenge and you just don’t appear to be making any headway in bringing a person or group on board? What can you do when someone continuously challenges you to the point where you feel if you said it was black, they would most certainly say it was white? Worse still, they set about convincing everyone else of how wrong you are.
Well the first clue in what actions to take can be found in the words and phrases I used to describe the problem. Let’s take another look at the sentence.
‘someone continuously challenges you to the point where you feel if you said it was black, they would most certainly say it was white. Worse still, they set about convincing everyone else of how wrong you are’.
Are you therefore exaggerating the behaviours you are experiencing?
All the words in bold are either words to describe emotions or assumptions you are making. I am also going to make a sweeping statement here and presume that you are thinking that at this point I am going to suggest that you remove the emotion from the situation…but you’d be wrong. I think it is more important to acknowledge the emotions you are feeling and use them to your advantage rather than to dismiss them or ‘put it to one side’ as we are often told. The simple act of labelling what you are feeling goes a long way to validating it. As I often hear my yoga teacher say, ‘every feeling is valid. You have the right to feel any emotion you want. You aren’t being dramatic. You aren’t exaggerating. You are feeling and that is ok.’ By labelling the emotion, you move into the area of the brain reserved for rational thinking. It’s been proven in brain imaging studies that applying rational words to any negative emotion disrupts its intensity….thus helping you to move forward.
In line with this, consider if how you are describing the person’s actions is adding to the problem. Do they honestly ‘continuously’ challenge you? – Continuously would mean that they repeatedly do this without interruption or any gaps, or in other words they would challenge you every time you had an interaction with them. It is unlikely that even the most difficult person would test you on every point at every interaction. Are you therefore exaggerating the behaviours you are experiencing? By changing how we describe someone, we can actually lessen the impact they are having. If you don’t agree with that, just try the opposite and see how quickly the person becomes at the forefront of your thinking. We’ve all done it, not able to stop yourself from wondering how they could potentially disrupt your day, how you are going to respond to every possible scenario they may challenge you on and thinking ‘wouldn’t it be nice if they weren’t in today!’
Another step you commonly see written when researching ‘how to deal with challenging behaviour’ is to try and establish the reason behind their actions, for example are you undertaking a task that they hoped was going to be theirs or have you unknowingly overtaken a rising star? Whilst I agree it’s always nice to know what their issue is, asking someone ‘what is your problem’ to their face can often be too confrontational and is prone to make the situation worse. Likewise, if you decide to try and find out about them from another team member, it can rapidly backfire – think gossip, think being accused of talking behind someone’s back and you’ll quickly recall all the reasons this can be a bad idea! So, I prefer to use the tools I have in my own tool kit and I think one of the most important and under used tools is acceptance. It is about accepting that not everyone is always going to welcome you with open arms and may never come on board. Also, not everyone is going to like the task you have been set…. or even you. Once you acknowledge this, it is much easier to continue.
I’ve also listed a further three simple actions you may like to consider:
- Are you really listening or just waiting to speak? – How frequently are you actually thinking about nothing else but the words that are coming out of the other person’s mouth? If you are caught up in the emotion of the challenge, as we described earlier, it is highly likely that you are no longer actually hearing what they are saying. Resist the urge to respond and actively digest what they are saying.
- Try and understand their perspective – similar to the above but have you really tried to understand their point of view? You can almost guarantee to engage with someone when they know that you are really trying to see an issue from their point of view and maybe more importantly, demonstrate this by asking the questions necessary to get there. If they feel that they have made their position clear, yet the other person isn’t invested in helping, then things quickly turn to debate, and we move into the thoughts of victory for victory’s sake, instead of getting to a point of genuine mutual understanding.
- Maintain the tone of the conversation even if its importance or intensity may escalate – I appreciate that some people express themselves best through raising their voice or gesturing wildly, but generally colleagues don’t respond well to that. Even if they can’t, keep your tone even and instead use the occasional emphasised word to help get your point across.
Whilst I accept these suggestions may not overcome every challenging individual you come across, they can at least provide you with some rational ideas when you may feel like you are out of your own