Friday, February 25, 2011

Handling difficult people

I got an email the other day inviting me to take a course on how to handle difficult people.  That's interesting since I, myself, am a difficult person.

I actually have some experience in teaching others about handling difficult people since teachers have to do that all the time. The best book I have used in connection with the subject is "Teacher Effectiveness Training" by Thomas Gordon.   The book and his others on parenting and leading in organizations emphasize the need to listen fully, carefully and accurately to what others are saying.   Nothing helps a person become difficult faster than not being listened to, even though most people don't get listened to, most of the time.

Gordon next emphasizes what he calls "I-messages", that is statements about myself, not statements of accusations or blame or admonishments to, or about the other person.   The frustrated and fatigued parent or teacher dealing with a difficult child often raises that well-known lecturing finger and delivers some sort of negative statement about the child.   Nine times out of ten, that same negative statement, true or partially true or not, has been leveled at the recipient before.   It is not likely to help the situation, the speaker or the recipient.

When I was 34 and had been teaching at the university for 6 years, I was selected to be the major administrator of a group of 40 college students on a trip to Britain for 11 weeks and a tour of several European countries for 3 weeks.   I had not been out of the US except for a trip to Canada and I had no experience or training in 24-hour-a-day oversight of a diverse group of energetic but inexperienced young people.   To try to prepare myself, I did what academics often do: I read a book.   It was "On Becoming a Person" by Carl R. Rogers.

It, too, emphasized the need for openness, honesty and acceptance of the other person in any relationship.   Rogers' words helped me keep a semblance of cool most of the time.

The problems of my being a difficult person for others to get along with and of my being difficult for me to understand and abide continue, but I am working on them both.

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