On a recent trip to Arizona, I visited the Desert Botanical Gardens in
Scottsdale. There I found an array of desert plants, including many varieties
of cacti. There were cacti that looked liked octopi, and some that were called
“teddy bear!” The very idea of calling a cactus a “teddy bear” seemed to me to
be an oxymoron, and maybe the Arizona heat went to my head, but I felt that I
needed to try one out; just for the heck of it. And so I hugged one of them. As
I looked closer, I realized that if you stroked the cactus the right way, the
needles didn’t hurt you. Only when you stroked it the wrong way did it get feisty (so to speak.) It occurred to me that
people are just like that: it is only when you rub them the wrong way that they
Just like cacti, these people come
in many varieties. Some talk
constantly. Some never listen. Some interrupt. Some are lazy. Some are critical
of everything you do. Some are overly competitive. Some undermine you. Some blame
you for everything that goes wrong. Some make you feel like you need to watch
your back. Some are just plain rude and obnoxious. And unfortunately, some of
them are all of these…and more!
An internet search for books on dealing with “difficult” people (read: cacti)
showed just how many people are struggling with this in the workplace. There is
an amazing array of books on “managing” difficult people, “handling” difficult
people, “dealing” with them, finding out what “they” don’t want you to know,
and “getting along” with them. One of the books I found even referred to people
as “toxic” and the book was about how to “decontaminate” them. The question is,
do these books really help? Don’t they just make the situation worse by placing
negative filters in our minds, making us think that these people are our
enemies and that we need strategies and game plans to deal with them?
If we let the negative filters creep in, we subconsciously start to “label”
people: “Oh, she is really rude,” “he is just a whiner,” or “she is sooooo
bad-tempered.” When this happens, we start expecting
them to be that way! If people want to be prickly, they will be, but it seems
that the more we expect people to be difficult, the more difficult they will
be. People generally live up or down to our expectations, and when they do, we
can be secretly smug, saying to ourselves (and others): “See, that is exactly
what I am talking about.” They justify what we think when they do what we
expect. Yet, it is often our own
attitude toward them that makes or breaks our interactions, or that makes them
good or bad.
Granted, there are times when all of us have been completely
frustrated with a member of our staff, or when we have wanted to ask a customer
to go elsewhere and never come back, but the reward comes when we can turn
these people around. I don’t wish to undermine the difficulty of dealing with people
who are belligerent, lazy or just plain rude, but I do want to make a case for
seeing beyond the spikes.
It is no wonder that people are sometimes prickly: the
stress of the 24-7 culture, attempting to balance work and life, driving on
over-crowded roads at rush hour, not to mention dealing with normal but
stressful life events such as house moving or sometimes just having a bad hair
day (or week, month or year). Yet when we try to deal with the spikes rather
than the person underneath, we are creating a recipe for disaster.
Naturally, it’s easy to recognize when someone else is being prickly! Lest we think of ourselves as perfect, let’s
remember that each of us has our own variety of prickles hiding somewhere inside.
For many of us, they might be so well hidden that only some rare situation
brings it out. For others, it is right there on our sleeves for all to see.
When we see the proverbial cactus starting to emerge in others, sometimes it
is useful to start by examining ourselves. Are you overreacting? Is this behavior
typical of this person? Is it becoming a pattern? Are they just doing a great
job of pressing your buttons? (We all have them!) Most prickly people are not
aware of how they come over to others. They often work from the negative side
of their personality.
There is a lot of value in trying to understand others’ points of view.
Often, when we change our own attitudes toward them, and challenge our own
beliefs about what makes them “wrong,” we can slowly find ways of working with
them. My mother once told me that each of us can find a connection with every
other person, but in some that “golden nugget” is buried much deeper than
others, and we have to dig deep to find it.
Finding that nugget might just be the key to calming the spikes.
Get me that spade and some good gardening gloves!