Are you the problem?

In helping people deal with difficult relationships, whether working or personal relationships, there is always a basic issue that has to be tackled. Difficulties are symptomatic of differences and to truly learn and grow one has to ultimately ask, “Are you the problem?”

A useful assumption that we often make, and simply have to live by much of the time, is that everyone is essentially having a similar kind of experience of life. Shared experiences bind people together and unite our communities. Common values, beliefs and rules give us order and guidance in life. It makes sense to assume that people essentially think the same. This is a useful assumption but in reality is wrong all the time. Everyone experiences life differently and the beliefs, values, rules and preferences that we live by are uniquely individual. When you encounter a ‘difficult’ person in your life then you have hit upon a difference that can’t be ignored. You have met a different perception of the world that is in conflict with yours. Who is right?

A conflict with someone else is essentially a battle over who has the right map of the world. Here are some of the most common conflicting maps that we encounter in our coaching and training work:

Introverts and Extroverts

Introverts tend to be energised by the world of ideas and taking time to reflect. Extroverts are generally energised by interactions with others. A stereotypical introvert will often have really thought things through before talking about them. In contrast an extrovert may not have a clear idea of what they are going to say until they open their mouths. Extroverts literally need to talk to think. The extroverts preference for interaction can of course be very useful. However it can also be very disruptive to an introverts well thought out idea. While the extrovert is jabbering away the introvert can feel disrespected and unheard which isn’t a recipe for a great relationship. In fact introverts often find themselves retreating to the world of the written word while the extrovert can feel like the introvert is impossible to get to know. Both introverted and extroverted behaviour have their time and place and we all need a mix of both. I’m sure everyone can think of a time when they were too introverted or overly extrovert.

Towards and Away

Someone who has a ‘Towards’ way of thinking is always looking forward to what’s next and what they want to move towards. The ‘Away’ thinker has a tendency to focus their thoughts on what they don’t want and moving away from it. These different types of thinking can make planning the future a challenge. While one person is focused on what they want to happen the other may be determined to make sure past mistakes aren’t repeated. It can be tempting to think of ‘Towards’ thinking as a more effective or ‘positive’ attitude. However ‘Away’ thinking also helps to keep things grounded and helps us learn from the past.

Details and Big Picture thinking

Do you enjoy focusing on the facts? Are you more comfortable with going with what you can be certain about and what you have experienced before? Or perhaps you like the uncertainty and excitement of what the future will bring? Maybe you prefer to see what might emerge from combining things together? In other words do you focus on the concrete information you can rely on or do you prefer to thing about the possibilities of what could be? You need both. For any plan to be successful you need to be realistic about where you are starting from. Focusing only on what you can be certain about restricts creativity. Only focusing on what you would like to happen in the future can cause chaos and frustration because you may not be building on a solid foundation.

Planning and Options

Some people love to plan and then work that plan. These are the kind of people who love list making and ticking things off their list as they work through them. Others like to keep things open and to go with the flow; responding in the moment and enjoying uncertainty. Both behaviours are appropriate in specific contexts but we all have a natural preference. Often this preference is home or work specific, i.e., some people like to be more options orientated at work but like more order in their personal life and vice versa. There is an interesting preference overlap here that demonstrates how both are needed. Options-orientated people are usually quite good at writing procedures because they are good at thinking through all the possibilities of what might go wrong. People with a ‘Planning’ preference tend to be good at following procedures, unlike the Options-people who find it hard to stick to anyone’s instructions because they distracted by ‘how else’ they might do it.

These are of course stereotypes and our suggestion is that ideally we all need to learn to be flexible. Where the problem arises is where we become inflexible in our approach and believe people ‘should’ or ‘must’ do it our way.

So how do you get a better idea of where the other person is coming from so that you can be more flexible and consequently more influential? Here’s the framework of a basic approach:

  • Learn to notice and appreciate difference. If you can learn to see the world from your own and other’s point of view then you ultimately have a richer and more complete view of the world.
  • Be prepared to compromise and recognise that flexibility in our own behaviour often gives us more choices and influence. It isn’t a failing or a personal loss to give up on our preferred way of doing something. Being flexible and trying different approaches is when we learn the most.
  • Find common ground when approaches differ and take time to negotiate and discuss what you can and can’t be flexible on.

If you’re interested in how to be better at appreciating difference and developing your personal flexibility then you’ll enjoy our all-inclusive NLP Diploma course in The Cotswolds.  Dealing with people that have a totally different view of things, either in the workplace or within personal relationships, can feel exhausting at times. Our aim is to make that easier for you as a life skill. To find out more click here.

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