We all have to deal with really difficult people. Heated arguments make things worse. Keeping quiet makes you look like you agree or accept what is happening. Telling them how bad they are making you feel often triggers emotional outbursts from them.
What can you do to stand up for yourself against difficult people?
Fortunately there is a very useful four-step process that Marshall Rosenberg* has developed. He proposes you start by describing your observations of what the other person is doing. Then you state your feeling in relation to those observations. Then you state the needs you have that led to those feelings. Lastly you make a request of the other person to get what you want.
A parent for example might use this four step process with his teenager: “When I see you watching TV while the supper dishes are unwashed in the sink (that’s the observations), I feel irritated because you said you would do the dishes after supper (that’s the feeling). I need us as a family to honour the commitments we make (that’s the need from which feeling came). So I would like you to do them right now. Would you be willing to do that?” (that’s the request)
The process works because it doesn’t provoke resistance, defensiveness or violent reactions. Lets go into the steps in a bit more detail:
Step one is your observations.
It’s is a statement of behaviour that you see or hear. It’s a purely factual observation, with no judgement or evaluation. It should not be open to dispute because it’s a statement of observable facts, the way a video would record them. The statement enables you to engage the other person without making them defensive. It’s expressed as: “When I see or hear…..”
Step two is your feelings in relation to those observations.
It’s the single most descriptive feeling that was triggered by what you saw or heard. As with the previous step, it’s not a judgement or an attack on the other person. This enables you to connect with the other person in a respectful way. It’s expressed as: “I feel….”
Step three explains where your feelings come from.
These are your needs, values, expectations or thoughts that are creating the feeling. The other person can’t argue against a need, value, expectations or thoughts that you have. It’s expressed as: “Because I need…..”
Step four is what you want from the other person to achieve your best outcome.
It’s a specific behavioural request of what you want that person to do that doesn’t leave any room for misunderstanding. It’s a request rather than a statement to get the person to verbally commit to your outcome. If they refuse your request, at least you know where you stand. It’s expressed as: “So I’d like you to …”
Let’s take a work example. A colleague and you jointly came up with an idea, and he has presented it as his is own to your team-leader. Truly a frustrating situation!
The starting point using this process is deciding on the outcome you want from the conversation. You consider but hopefully reject outcomes that would lead to screaming or you being jailed for manslaughter! Eventually you decide your best outcome is for the person to tell the team-leader you both came up with the idea.
The conversation would follow the following sequence:
Step one: Your observations. “When I read your e-mail to the team leader proposing the new idea without mentioning my role in coming up with the idea ………”
Step two: Your feelings in relation to those observations. “I felt deeply hurt……”
Step three: The needs, values, expectations or thoughts that are creating your feeling. “Because I need my efforts to be acknowledged …..”
Step four: The request you ask. “So I would like you to tell the team-leader that we both came up with the idea. Would you be willing to do that?”
This four-step process you will hopefully get the other person to commit themselves to your best outcome. If however the person refuses to do what you request, you could ask them if there is something else that they are prepared to do to meet the need you have expressed.
If you don’t achieve your best outcome, you will at least you will have addressed the issue as constructively as possible and probably nothing much else would have worked. In which case you can now decide what you need to do or change in your life to live your life in accordance with your values and needs.
If there is a really difficult person in your life, try this four-step process to get your best outcome.
*Process adapted from Rosenberg, MB (2012) Living Nonviolent Communication: Practical Tools to Connect and Communicate Skilfully in Every Situation. Sounds True
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