How to Handle Difficult People – A Tao Perspective
How to deal with difficult people.
“To subdue the enemy without fighting is the highest skill.” — Gichin Funakoshi, father of modern Karate
“The Chinese call it Chi; the Japanese, Ki; the Indians Prana – it is the life force, and it is incredibly powerful…it can’t be explained adequately except to those who have already experienced it, but it’s one of the very few willable miracles.” — Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, 19-time NBA All-Star, describing how he accesses his inner strength
Tao, the ancient Chinese concept of “the way,” can be interpreted as harnessing and flowing with your life force (“Chi”) so you experience composure and equanimity within, while projecting supple and effective strength without. Bottom of Form
Below are five ways you can apply Taoist principles to the handling of difficult people. Keep in mind that these are general rules of thumb, and not all of the tips may apply to your particular situation. Simply utilize what works and leave the rest. For more in-depth tools on how to effectively handle difficult individuals, download free excerpts of my publications (click on titles) “How to Communicate Effectively and Handle Difficult People” and “Communication Success with Four Personality Types.”
1. Empty Your Cup – Release Negative Emotions and Maintain Composure
"Emptiness the starting point…drop all your preconceived and fixed ideas and be neutral. Do you know why this cup is useful? Because it isempty.” — Bruce Lee, philosopher and founder of Jeet Kune Do
It's easy to allow a difficult person to upset us and ruin our day. You may feel angry, distressed, and lose your balance within. The first rule in the face of an unreasonable person is to maintain your composure. The less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the challenge. When you feel angry or upset with someone, before you say something you might later regret, take a deep breath and count slowly to ten. In most circumstances, by the time you reach ten, you would have figured out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce, instead of escalate the problem. If you're still upset after counting to ten, take a time out if possible, and revisit the issue after you calm down. By maintainingself-control, you harness more power to manage the situation. "Breathing...corresponds to taking charge of one's own life." ― Luce Irigaray, philosopher
2. See Both Sides – Shift from Being Reactive to Proactive “Don't have preconceived notions about anything. Don't be confined by anything, Achieve true freedom.” — Jeet Kune Do creed
You may feel wronged or victimized by the actions of a difficult individual. While such sentiments are often understandable and justified, to focus primarily on "what he/she is doing to me" is to miss the opportunity of a broader, more empowering perspective. By looking at the situation from a wider lens, you can begin to restore your inner balance, and set upon handing the issue from a proactive, rather than reactive stance. When you feel offended by someone’s words or deeds, come up with multiple ways of viewing the situation before reacting. For example, I may be tempted to think that my friend is ignoring my calls, or I can consider the possibility that he’s been very busy. When we avoid personalizing other people's behaviors, we can perceive their expressions more objectively. People do what they do because of them more than because of us. Widening our perspective on the situation can reduce the possibility of misunderstanding. Another way to reduce personalization is to try to put ourselves in the difficult individual’s shoes, even for just a moment. For example, consider the person you’re dealing with, and complete the sentence: “It must not be easy...” “My child is being so resistant. It must not be easy to deal with his school and social pressures…” “My manager is really demanding. It must not be...
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