Lessons From a Difficult Person;
How to Deal With People Like Us
By Sarah Elliston
Elliston is a highly successful workshop leader and trainer, who offers wisdom learned the hard way—by experience – as well as through rigorous study and certification in many areas of professional training that aid her in her work — Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute. Glasser is an internationally recognized psychiatrist and developer of Reality Therapy, a method of psychotherapy that teaches people they have a choice in how they choose to behave.
The methods Elliston offers in her book end the trauma and the drama, and minimize the possibility of confrontation. She gives YOU, the reader, the ability to take a strong, positive, confident—yet compassionate–stance with the “difficult person”—whether that is a relative, coworker, friend, one of your children or anyone else for that matter.
Elliston demonstrates how to:
- Identify the ways to talk to a “difficult” person
- Incorporate true incentives to help people change
- Make real the consequences of the “difficult” person’s action
- Increase success through acceptance and belonging
- Avoid being triggered by the “difficult” person allowing you to neutralize those hot buttons and communicate without judgment
Elliston lays out a proven script for peacefully transforming the difficult person’s behavior and the environment. She gives you the tools for successfully initiating and engaging in a conversation with a difficult person that would lead to change.
Where did you get your information or ideas for your book?
The content of the book came from my life and my perspective of my life as well as the theories and concepts of Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Choice Theory and Reality Therapy. I became familiar with the bodies of knowledge in my life, liked them and realized to really understand them I needed to teach them.
Parent Effectiveness Training taught me about boundaries with others, my child and other family members. It taught me how to listen without judging and how to tell someone when I had a problem with their behavior. Values Realization is an enormous body of information based on the concept that there are seven criteria for a value and it is challenging to live in integrity with our deeds matching our creeds. We often allow old experiences and opinions to cloud our ability to live by our values.
Choice Theory and Reality Therapy teach that almost all behavior is chosen and we are driven by our genes to satisfy five basic needs: survival, love and belonging, power and achievement, freedom and fun. Reality Therapy teaches us that the only person we can control is ourselves and that we have to give up trying to control others. External control doesn’t not work; it destroys relationships. Most problems have relationship issues at their core and it is a current relationship, not the past.
These ideas and my experience with creating activities to help explore them are what I used to develop my book. I believe that difficult people have relationship issues and they are difficult because that is all they know how to do. I didn’t know what I was doing until someone told me in a clear, nonjudgmental manner. It led to enhanced relationships and my being less difficult.
Is this a Self Help book or a memoir of your life?
It’s a little bit of both. I explore my childhood and growing up as an attempt to show how one difficult person evolved. I describe how others managed to work with me, be married to me and not be able to tell me, in language I could understand, that I was difficult. There is no blame here, just a collection of my experiences.
My purpose is to invite the reader to face the issue of the difficult person in their life and discover what could be done to have a conversation with that person. Most of the book is a series of concepts and exercises in self-exploration for the reader. In order to have a successful conversation with the difficult person the reader needs to reflect on his own judgments and attitudes and decide if it really is his business. There are strategies for practicing the conversation as well as examples of some and reports of some of my coaching clients.
Finally, there is an outline of how a conversation might flow, with potential choice s of what the reader might say.
Doesn’t our world create difficult people?
Our culture encourages people to speak their minds and show initiative and in some cases, we grow up without learning appropriate boundaries or behavior. In an effort to be inclusive and participatory some organizations and families become permissive and discontent is usually the result. So here, perhaps, our world creates difficult people.
I think it is as much the above as it is a lack of willingness of individuals to take a step to talk to another person about what they are doing. To make the connection and experience a negative reaction can be enough to have people turn away, at which point they may become angry or sarcastic and evolve into being difficult themselves.
A mental health professional once told me that the most important word for good mental health is RISK. Brené Brown, research professor of sociology and author of three #1 New York Times bestsellers: The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Rising Strong, has spent the last fourteen years studying vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Dr. Brown points out that one is not truly alive and engaged unless one is vulnerable. Taking a risk to have a conversation with a difficult person is being vulnerable and will bring real results.
Reading this book and participating in the suggested exercises will be risky. Closer relationships and clearer boundaries might result.
What is one take-away from your book that you hope your readers remember?
I hope readers will remember that the difficult person is not intentionally being difficult. My experience shows that even people who have done some introspection and self-help activities don’t realize how others perceive the nor how they are impacting others.
I had been seeing therapists of one sort or another most of my life and attended various workshops to determine ways to find happiness in my life and still had behaviors that others found difficult. It was as natural to me as breathing and I didn’t understand that others avoided me. I wished for more friends but something was always wrong with them once I got them.
A difficult person does not know what they are doing that aggravates the reader and if the only idea the reader takes is to ask the person, “Do you know you do this and it annoys the heck out of me?” it will be a first step in healing the relationship.
What do you mean by “being in someone’s business?”
This is a concept I learned from Byron Katie, creator of a self-inquiry process called The Work and author of bestselling books: Loving What Is, and A Thousand Names for Joy. Katie states that there are three kinds of business: my business which is everything about me, your business which is everything about you and God’s business which is everything else.
Being in someone’s business is what brings us pain. Trying to be in God’s business also brings us pain. How do we know we are out of our own business? Probably because we are in pain. I teach the concept in the book Lessons from a Difficult Person for the reader to self-evaluate his desire for someone to be different. If he wants the other to be different because he thinks the other would be better or happier if he changed, the reader is in the other person’s business.
If the reader wants the other to consider changing because the behavior of the other has concrete impact on productivity in the workplace or comfort and happiness in a family situation, and it directly impacts the reader, then it is more possible that he is in his own business. Clarity around this boundary is essential for developing a conversation with the difficult person that will invite a better relationship.
There is nothing more annoying than someone who says, “You know what your problem is? You should just do this and you’d be so much happier.” It’s possibly true but we don’t like being told what to do. When someone asks, “Are you aware that you’re doing this and it is negatively impacting others? Is that what you want?” we are more open to considering a change. We are given information and asked if it’s what we want. We can choose to change or not. It is our business.
Sarah (Sam) Elliston is an expert in the art of Dealing with Difficult People. She is a top workshop leader and a member of the faculty of the William Glasser Institute, which espouses “Reality Therapy” to foster behavioral change.
But her instructional career began long before she even became aware that she was herself a “difficult person,” traits that began in Lincoln MA, where she grew up. For more than 30 years she has been teaching and training, first as a high school teacher in Ohio and Cincinnati—and then as an administrator in the not-for-profit sector.
Prize: One winner will receive a copy of Lessons from a Difficult Person and a $10 Amazon gift card (open to USA & Canada). Ends Feb 25, 2017.
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