In almost everyone’s life, there is one person that irks them or gets under
their skin; that knows how to push their buttons. Often, this painful person can
be avoided or at least contact minimized for the sake of one’s sanity.
But the workplace provides a kind of conundrum. Difficult people can be on
all rungs of the ladder, from a supervisor, to a co-worker, to a member of a
different department, and the path of least resistance may not be an option at
all. But, as demonstrated at a recent CMA teleconference, blame is not to be
shouldered solely by a difficult person to get along or work with, and in fact
these turbulent relationships can be beneficial.
“At what cost do we put up with these behaviors?” asked Susan Fee, counselor,
Susan Fee & Associates. “These people can help us by exposing us to our own
weaknesses. They force us to define our boundaries.”
Fee also said that interactions with “difficult people” could help
individuals recognize patterns. If they’ve felt these emotions before, then it
may not be the “difficult person” who is the problem since they are not the
common denominator through one’s life. She described a cycle that begins with
confronting a situation, a person’s automatic thoughts of that situation, which
lead to feelings/emotions, and ultimately to what sort of behavior is dictated.
So oftentimes, it is an individual’s outlook on life that has the most profound
impact on their attitudes toward a situation or person. “We clearly know that
people who are optimistic versus pessimistic deal with difficult people better,”
explained Fee. “Optimistic people tend to view difficult people or situations as
transient; they recognize what can’t be controlled. Pessimistic people feel that
a difficult person undermines their whole lives. They believe they are
She described a typical occurrence where people complain that “So-and-so
ruined my day.” It’s an all too common lament where blame is placed on other
people for their impact on an individual’s life instead of that individual
taking accountability for their own happiness and taking the reins on what
affects them. Fee said that people need to “lose the victim mentality and focus
on what is controllable.”
She stated simply, “It starts with you. Your automatic thoughts will lead to
how you deal with a situation. These feelings don’t come from outside of you.
They come from your thoughts.”
“By blaming them, you are saying, ‘I can’t be happy until you change,'” Fee
added. “When people speak as victims, they perceive that they have no choice.
You can always change your thoughts. People can’t push our buttons unless we
reveal to them our panel.”