Listen. We know how hard hard conversations are. And how much harder they get when the person you need to have one with hates them even more than you do. So, how the heck do you deal with difficult people? And not just in a pandemic or during the (virtual?) holidays (though that too), but every day, whether you work with them, live with them, date them, and/or gave birth to them.
The sisters are hear to help.
You ask. Lauren and Marnie answer. Alright. Lauren answers and Marnie nods, chuckles, and makes sure whatever Lauren answers not only landed with you, but didn’t splatter.
Today’s topic? Difficult people. Got any? Quarantined with any?
Marnie: Okay, Lauren the topic today is difficult people. Ready?
Marnie: First question:
“Every time I bring up a hard conversation with my partner, I can see him shut down immediately. How do you get someone to listen and have a hard conversation with you?”
Lauren: Okay. First you need to set up a time to speak with them and acknowledge that you know they hate these types of conversations.
So, for example, you can say something like, “Oh hey, I know these types of conversations aren’t your favorite. I really understand that and I don’t want to do them every day, but I want to have this one hard conversation. I’m going to tell you the topic and then I want us to plan a time to have the conversation. It’s about [fill in the blank, i.e. it’s about mom, it’s about work, it’s about the kids, it’s about your drinking]. Then you say, “I want to give you time to be able to think about it. And I’m not coming to attack you. I really just want to be able to tell you what’s going on for me. And I want you to listen. But I want you to pick a time when you’re willing to do that and you’re prepared to sit and give me 45 minutes. Okay? And I promise I won’t go over 45 minutes. And whenever I need to have one of these, I’ll organize it more like this.”
Does that make sense?
So you show up to the person like they deserve the right to pick a time, to know the topic, and if they want to ask any other questions, they can. But you appreciate that they hate this and you agree they hate this and you don’t want to overstep their feelings, but you need to have this conversation, because you’re [fill in the blank, i.e. married or they’re your sister, or whatever important reason]. You can say something like, “We need to have this conversation, because it’s really important to me that I really understand you and you understand me. And so I’m sorry to force this on you, but we do need to talk about this subject.”
Marnie: Yes, it’s definitely key that you don’t ambush them. Because most likely, at other times, they have felt ambushed, because…they were. I mean, they’re hard conversations. No one’s, “Oh goody, let’s talk about my, i.e. drinking.” In other words, what Lauren is teeing you up to do is set up the context for your conversation. The “I wouldn’t have this conversation if I didn’t love you, if I didn’t care, if I wasn’t worried about you,” or whatever it is. So they really know it’s coming from love.
Lauren: And please understand that the faces that they’re making when you suggest having a hard conversation are faces they have perfected to keep you away. Right? My son (16) has it down. People have very good faces to deter you from having difficult conversations with them. So get over their face because you’re interpreting their pain, or they’re going to kill you, or the little eye they’re giving you. Let them give you that eye. Don’t go, “Why do you have to give me that…?” You don’t need to get hurt by their face. They’re allowed to go through their process.
Marnie: It’s true. Personally, people who are (rightfully!) scared to give me notes have learned to come at me first with, “You’re not in trouble!” and it really helps a lot. I can hear whatever next they are going to say without my heart sinking a ton.
How do you deal with people that can’t take constructive criticism?
Lauren: Well, the first thing you would do is to ask the person how they would like you to deliver it, right? The more you can ask the other person, “Hey, I have this thing that I need to talk to you about. I don’t know how to talk to you about it. I never do it well. It’s about your mother, it’s about food, it’s about drinking, it’s about this subject. And I know you hate when I bring this up. How should I do it so that you can really hear my experience? I’m not coming after you, but I do want to talk about it and negotiate it with you.” Really ask them, “how do I do it” so you don’t offend them or get into a fight and you can say your truth.
[Sidebar: What’s true for you is not necessarily THE truth, it’s simply your truth.]
Lauren: You have to put on your soft little slippers by saying, “How do you want me to do this? I know you hate when I have to tell you something but I want to voice it because it keeps coming up for me. What do you want me to do?” And then they tell you how to do it right. And then follow their instructions and even check as you go: “How was that? Did I do that right?”
Keep trying to please them way before you ever deck them.
Marnie: It’s true. It works for me. It helps to hear the good shit first or be taken care of first if you’re getting constructive criticism. If you just care about my feelings by trying to make sure I don’t get killed by your notes, I’m already better. If you just come straight in with the bad, the likelihood is I’m not only going to be hurt about the bad, you’re going to be in trouble with me for how you said the bad.
Lauren: And she will never hear the point. I will be in three more conversations eating crow and apologizing for being her boss and trying to say something straight and not really having time to really manage this, but she doesn’t care because she’s pleading sister and I better do this right.
Marnie: It’s true. I have feelings.
Lauren: Right? And so be prepared for who you’re talking to and take care of them.
Marnie: And, by all means, give them notes. Who doesn’t need or get notes. We deserve them. OK. Next Question:
My son moved back home after college (or read: college ended abruptly and early) and is bumming around the house. How do I get him to get a job? Every time I bring up his future, it turns into a fight.
Lauren: You see how that’s gas lighting, right? You bring up something someone isn’t dealing with and they attack, right? So when a person gets extra defensive, pretty much you should take the note, it’s extra true.
So again, here’s what you do: You’re going to set up a meeting. “Okay, please can we set up a time on Sunday where we’re going to have a really straight conversation about my expectations if you’re living here.” Which dangles, “You can leave if you don’t want to quarantine here…”
Parents out there, you really do have the right to run rules in your house. And if he or she can make that face, scream at you, and you’ll leave the room and buy them two weeks, they will keep buying two weeks.
Instead you go, “Listen, I don’t want to have to do this, but I need to because I’m getting very uncomfortable in my own home and so I won’t have that anymore. So, Sunday, come prepared. We’re going to talk about all the actions you’re going to promise to take in order to stay and be productive here.” While you’re at it, have them do housework, “And what you’re going to do daily to really get a job. And this is not optional. The meeting isn’t optional if you’re living here, these are the rules.”
So, I would set down the law. And the truth is that you should have set that law before they moved back in. So you blew that, and so for anyone who’s listening and your kid’s going to move back in, you would set up the rules no different than you did when they were in high school.
Marnie: True. And if at all possible and you’re willing, getting your son, daughter, or whomever, a coach (that isn’t you) to get them a job, is genius. Right? Because they don’t listen to you the same way they’d listened to the coach that they care about. They care about you, but you know…
Lauren: And the odds are they don’t know how to write a resume. It could be tactical. “I don’t know how to do it, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, I don’t know what I should do next. I did that, it didn’t work.” So it’s also possible that they don’t really understand all the steps to be taking and what a good idea it would be if they did these five steps. And then you help and then you can even say in that meeting, “Listen, I’m also going to help you figure out exactly what you need to do and how to get it for you so you’re not scared to death to go looking for a job.”
They probably just don’t even know how to do it.
Marnie: It’s really true. And then from wherever college they went to, there’s a career center, there’s a lot of actions they could be taking and we do have Inner.U CAREER, our online coaching course, that really will help them write a dream and get into the right actions and have a promise tracker and have a buddy that’s not their mom and get really proud of themselves for being in the right actions. And there will be a much better visitor at your house if they’re in a lot of actions and are proud of themselves.
Marnie: Cool. Alrighty. Next Question:
Marnie: “My boss constantly interrupts and talks over me in meetings. I feel like it is hindering my growth at the company. What should I do?”
Lauren: Ha. It sounds like me. Okay, so I’ll tell you how my husband explains it in a way that doesn’t offend me because we’re now officially talking about my ability to interrupt and not shut up. Who me?
Marnie: Nooooo. Never.
Lauren: So first, understand that there are very different types of communication styles. Right? My husband likens them to guns. Nothing supporting guns, but he calls me a machine gun. Right? I am go, go, go. And he is a sniper. He waits for a pause.
Marnie: He is.
Lauren: He wants to be heard. He wants everybody to want to know what he has to say and then he lets it out. Right? And the poor man never gets to speak when he’s with me.
Marnie: He’s a hunter, he’s quiet in the woods for days.
Lauren: He really is, right? And so I always have to basically shut up long enough for him to pause so he can get his one sentence or three sentences out.
So, what you do, first and foremost, is stop getting offended: you just have very different styles. Then, you let your boss know that you get very flustered, intimidated, don’t speak up because of their style. You need to frame the conversation: “I need to have a difficult conversation with you.”
In Inner.U, there’s an entire module on how to craft a difficult conversation so that you’re not flustered or messed up while you’re sharing it, but you need to let them know that you really like to finish a whole thought and that you don’t feel like you get to finish a whole thought because he or she has a different kind of style of talking.
And state why you are having this conversation with them…“so we can get better at a give and take in a dialogue, I want to talk with you freely, it would mean a lot for me and my career because I know I’m not getting to say as much as I want to say, it would really mean a lot to me if you helped me pause and really get my words out.”
Okay? You have to train everyone around you that’s a machine gun. Forgive them, and then really train them to know you are the sniper type and you need space and time to talk. I hope you don’t live in New York because it’s very difficult…
The other thing I would tell you to do, which you’re not going to love but will probably be very good for you, is I would take an improv class. There’s a way you’re not flowing or even being able to go, “Hey, wait, let me finish my thought.” Right? You need a little class in being more of an extrovert. And so the improv, which I made Marnie do…
Marnie: Hell on earth. But really good for me. Made all else seem easy in comparison. Or, certainly, less embarrassing.
Lauren: Before you know it, you’re on the floor barking like a dog and acting like you need a meal. There’s a way you need to get out of your head that you’re not. And improv is a very fun but healthy way to get out of your head.
Marnie: We teach that your thoughts create your reality or your theories create your reality. So if you have a thought or theory that your boss always interrupts and talks over you and you’re less important, guess what happens often? And guess what the win is? The win is they actually talked over you.
“How do I not let the negative, mean, or grouchy people in my life affect my mood? I feel like I take on the emotions of others quickly and my day can sour if my friend, partner, or co-worker is in a bad mood.”
Lauren: Okay, so you’ve trained everybody, right? Anyone who’s complaining to you comes to you, loves to tell you all the problems, loves to get your empathy and share everything with you. You have to go, “Whoa. I trained them in that.” So, first admit that you’ve been listening for a long time and haven’t really figured out how to stop them. Okay, now they’re trained and they think that if you’re listening to their shit or they’re suffering because you love them.
So, one, I want you to know, anyone who’s telling you all that stuff, actually thinks your listening is love. Okay? No wonder you don’t want to tell them to shut up or stop complaining, because that’s mean, right? And you don’t want to be mean. You’re the nice one who listens to all the shit.
Marnie: The “snice” one.
Lauren: Snice is our word for snake + nice. You know, you smile, but you’re a snake in your head. Right?
So you actually owe a confession, right? “Susie, I have to tell you something and I’m embarrassed. I have been listening to you talk about that guy. I have been listening to you complain about them. And here’s my truth. I’m okay with listening, really, but I’m not okay with you never doing anything about it. So it feels useless for me to listen if you don’t fix it. So, from now on, if you complain, let’s come up with a solution and then you have to take that action, and then you’ll be happy. That would be my advice.”
Now if you’re like, “I don’t even give them advice, I don’t even want a solution. I want them to shut up.” That’s different. That’s entirely different.
So, figure out which category you’re in.
Marnie: I think the only thing I’d add is use your bad mood as a good indicator for you being two-faced with them. Right? If you just got so tired from being with them, it’s because you didn’t fucking tell the truth.
Personally, I used to walk around like “it’s so hard to be me.” And, eventually, I got the joke that it’s just so hard being me cause I’m not me, more often than I am.
Lauren: Faux Marnie.
Marnie: So, we’re calling you two-faced with them…get honest with them or get rid of them as nicely as you can.
Marnie & Lauren
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Lauren Handel Zander is the Co-Founder and Chairwoman of Handel Group®, an international corporate consulting and life coaching company. Her coaching methodology, The Handel Method®, is taught in over 35 universities and institutes of learning around the world, including MIT, Stanford Graduate School of Business, NYU, and the New York City Public School System. Lauren is also the author of Maybe It’s You: Cut the Crap, Face Your Fears, Love Your Life (Published by Hachette Book Group, April 2017), a no-nonsense, practical manual that helps readers figure out not just what they want out of life, but how to actually get there. She has spent over 20 years coaching thousands of private and corporate clients, including executives at Vogue, BASF, and AOL. Lauren has been a featured expert in The New York Times, BBC, Forbes, Women’s Health, Dr. Oz, and Marie Claire and she is a regular contributor to Businessweek and the Huffington Post. Click here to schedule a 30-minute consultation with Handel Group.
Image courtesy of Alex Iby.