I used to work for a large and incredibly busy organisation where I got on well with my colleagues. Well, except for one. Whenever I was in a meeting with this person, they were rude and angry and always keen to pick holes in others for the most trivial things, and I’d find myself feeling irritated and negative and annoyed with an overwhelming urge to throw pens at their head.
It got to the stage where I’d try to avoid them at all costs. When I knew there was a necessity to communicate, such as when a meeting with this person was inevitable, I’d feel a huge sense of anxiety leading up to it.
Each time I’d find myself trying to make them understand how unreasonable they were being whilst explaining my own point of view in the hope it would have some kind of impact and would change their behaviour; and yet, all I achieved was to walk away feeling exasperated.
What I’ve learned since, is that we have so many different ways of learning and communicating, of filtering information, such diverse experiences of life that contribute to our own personal beliefs and values, that it’s only to be expected that we have such unique (and sometimes opposing) views, opinions and ideas of the world around us. What’s important and what mattered to me, was entirely different to what was important and mattered to my colleague and trying to drag them over to my way of thinking would be like trying to force the proverbial square peg into a round hole.
If I’d known then how to step back and recognise all of those things, if I’d known how to adapt my own communication to match that of my colleague, if I’d understood how to alter my body language to gently influence them, and if I’d been able to step into their shoes and gain insight from another perspective… well then perhaps I would’ve seen the ‘picking holes in people’ were actually an incredibly important justification of self worth, how the ‘trivial things’ were in fact of great magnitude – to them, and how the ‘rudeness and anger’ were an essential layer of protective clothing.
If I’d known what I know now there are things I’d do differently. Here are a few of them:-
Listening to understand instead of listening to disagree
I’d gotten into the habit of walking into a meeting with this person and already deciding that everything they were going to say I would disagree with. Entering communication with an open mind and listening to really try and understand would have been so much more productive. This isn’t about agreeing or disagreeing, it’s about understanding.
Noticing their preferred representational system
If I’d known about our different ways of communicating, learning, and processing information, I’d have taken notice and adapted my communication to ensure I was really connecting, understanding and being understood. Negotiation is far easier when you actually understand each other!
Focus on what they DO want
Conversations were often about what this person didn’t want and what they weren’t happy with and what such and such a person had done. Now I’d steer the conversation to what they DID want, what they WERE happy with and what people could do MORE of.
On reflection, I have to think about what my colleague saw from me. If my reactions were consistently of irritation, annoyance and exasperation then that is probably how they saw me. So, I could choose to react differently, in a way that would create a more positive outcome.
Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle
This famous quote (source unknown but often attributed to Ian Maclaren and Plato) speaks for itself. We don’t know what people are going through, what challenges they face and what has led them to this very moment in time. If we did, we’d probably be much more compassionate, so… be kind.
They are just a handful of the things I’d change and there are plenty more. I’ve no regrets and I’m entirely grateful for this uncomfortable experience because if it hadn’t happened, how would I have ever learned such valuable lessons?
In summary, conflict is just feedback that something isn’t working; so don’t throw pens at people’s heads! Instead, learn from the experience.
Feedback is the most powerful way to develop.