It’s a hurdle all of us face—and falter against—at some point. A new book now teaches us how to deal with difficult people at work. Working with the Enemy by strategy guru Mike Leibling shows us how to survive and thrive in really difficult situations, and tells us how to nip these in the bud long before they become “situations”. Edited excerpts:
Survival tip: Avoid uncomfortable language
If we use language that sounds like really hard work, it will probably feel like—you’ve guessed it!—really hard work. For example:
Working with the Enemy: By Mike Leibling, Kogan Page, 176 pages, Rs 195.
•I wish I could put them back in their box.
•I could kill them.
•I need to tackle them.
•I want to stop them getting to me.
•They’re getting under my skin.
•Get them off my back.
•Keep them away from me.
•Take the bull by the horns.
•Put them in their place.
It’s much easier to avoid this sort of language and feel more in control.
Survival tip: Brush them aside, put them behind you
Some people almost shrink or collapse when under attack (usually by taking it personally), whereas others just brush it aside. Here’s how they do it. When they have thoughts of how awful the situation is, how they hate this person etc., they literally wave their hand and wave aside the thoughts and the pictures in their mind’s eye to put them behind them—usually with their right hand over their left shoulder—often referred to as the “cold” shoulder, for obvious reasons.
And putting it behind them means putting these images and sounds into the past—because that’s where they literally belong. We don’t need to dwell on them any more.
Survival tip: Stop imagining the worst, by generating choices
Do you have a very vivid imagination when it comes to imagining the worst? Can you not see anything positive in the future for yourself because “the worst” you’re imagining is blocking your view? If you’re blessed with a vivid imagination like this, here’s how to manage it:
•Shrink your fears down to an empty picture frame in your mind’s eye, making it black and white and silent as you do it, and freezing it still like a photo. Move it to the left. (Bad images should normally be kept way over to your left, or behind your left shoulder.)
•If you think that’s the worst-case scenario, imagine what could be even worse! And put that into a second frame, and move it to the left next to the first one.
•In frame three put whatever you would love the outcome to be and—as with any pleasant pictures—move it to your right.
•And in frame four put another favourable scenario that a favourite aunt or uncle might suggest for you, and again move it to your right.
Continue filling up your picture frames until you start feeling a bit better about your options, because you’re generating choices for yourself, and the “worst-case scenario” need no longer be your only choice. Remember, at present, all you need to do is feel better about the situation, not to fix it.
Survival tip: Stop thinking of them as an ‘enemy’ and they’ll stop feeling like one
Thinking of someone as the “enemy” might seem like a harmless piece of fun to try and lighten the situation, but consider what it truly does, and how potent it is:
•It pigeonholes a human being as 100% hostile, and even if that’s how it’s come to feel, it’s specific aspects of their behaviour that have struck us as negative
•It conjures up imagery of unpleasant situations, which in turn reignites uncomfortable feelings from the past
•There’s a finality about the description that can make it feel as though we have to change the whole person (and how likely is that?), whereas we only need to change these aspects of their behaviour.
We need to find another way of “labelling” them that feels accurate but neutral (eg, just their name), but maybe adding under our breath something like “who upset me in the past but I’m going to deal with them on a professional level”, which, although horribly long, can make us feel a lot better than “the enemy” did.
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