Dealing with difficult people is a challenge for all of us at times. Take a moment to think about the most frustrating person in your life right now.
Maybe there’s a recent hire in your office who’s been really getting on your nerves? You sense a blow up with them is probably on the horizon.
Does your oldest friend drive you up the wall with those passive-aggressive questions about how everything’s going? Or your sibling fail to hide his or her contempt for your chosen career path?
Today, I want to invite you to reflect on what this conflict is costing you, and suggest a new approach to your interactions.
What do I mean by ‘conflict?’
It’s worth noting that when I speak about ‘conflict’ we may have a different understanding of what it means. When we think of conflict, we typically think about two or more people, organisations, parties or countries that have fallen out and are openly hostile to one another.
And when we think about the term in relation to ourselves, we would often say we don’t have any conflict because what we’re experiencing doesn’t align with our worldview of what ‘conflict’ is. To give you an example from my own life, even when I was estranged from my Dad for 17 years, I wouldn’t have said we were in conflict because I’d severed my ties with him, so there wasn’t any ongoing dispute – at least not externally.
But the reality is, if there’s someone in your life you find difficult, you’re experiencing conflict, even if you’re not visibly coming into dispute with them. Internally, they have an effect on you – at the cost of your own peace of mind.
The physical and emotional costs of conflict
Our response to the mere mention of those challenging individuals is a clue that there’s a lot going on under the surface. We’re constantly carrying (often subconsciously) our emotions about that person. And that takes some of our energy, each time we think about, interact with, or anticipate our next encounter with them.
Those challenging people take up space in our minds, and can actually create physical responses. When I asked you to think about who they were, you might have noticed some sensations. Did your jaw clench, your heart start to beat faster, or your stomach churn? Perhaps you simply experienced a sinking feeling or noticed a deep sigh?
On a physical level, then, we’re paying a price in terms of the stress response our bodies go into: raised cortisol levels can cause all kinds of effects, from slowed metabolism to raised blood pressure. But the costs of conflict don’t stop there.
Conflict has an impact on many areas of our lives
As well as the physical and emotional effects, being in conflict with someone also has an impact on how well we’re able to focus and concentrate. If an argument or difficult relationship leads us to lose sleep, that can go on to have a whole other chain of effects on our performance, cognitive processing and ability to make good decisions.
What’s especially frustrating is when you know you’ve done everything you can – you’ve tried being on your best behaviour; you’ve tried pointing out how the other person is making you feel; you’ve tried ignoring them, or avoiding them, or cutting them out of your life entirely. But the situation is still invading your thoughts. Whatever you have tried, however you have changed your behaviour, it doesn’t seem to have had any effect on theirs. It feels as though you are out of options.
These lingering conflict can show up in “echoes” in other, unrelated situations. We might find, for example, that coming into contact with someone who reminds us of someone we’re in conflict up suddenly triggers similar emotions.
(If someone you’re managing reminds you of your stubborn younger brother who you haven’t spoken to in years, it can be tough to treat them the same way you would someone else.)
The rewards of effectively interacting with those difficult people
It can be uncomfortable to realise just how big an impact difficult people have on our lives, and to see the conflict we’re experiencing for what it is. It’s also very normal! My workshop participants often express surprise to find that the simmering anger or hurt they feel about neighbours, friends, family members or colleagues is shared by others in the room.
But recognising the effect they have also opens up the potential for incredible transformation that’s a lot easier than we think.
When we learn effective strategies to bring ease to interactions with difficult people, it releases the energy, focus and physical stress they would otherwise cost us.
That doesn’t mean that we’ll never have a challenging interaction again. There’s no magic wand we can wave to stop infuriating people from coming into our lives, or change the behaviours of the ones who are already there. But there are simple techniques you will experience at the award-winning War to Peace® workshop that you can put in place to bring a sense of freedom and ease to the way you experience those people.
And if the costs of staying stuck are great, the rewards of allowing that ease to come in feel even greater.
Over to you
Who’s the most challenging person in your life?
What about their behaviour niggles you?
What is it costing you to stay in conflict with this person?
If you’re ready to move on
If you’re ready to bring ease and freedom into your life no matter how challenging the people in your world are, then do join me at one of my open-access War to Peace® workshops, I’d love to welcome you:
Want to find out what the impact could be on your team sooner? I’ve been running in-house workshops using the award-winning War to Peace® methodology for over a decade and I’d be delighted to explore how I can help you and your organisation. Just click here to get in touch.
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