I think that the worst personal flaw we can have is to believe that we don’t have any.
When we believe this, it is all too easy to blame others, not take any responsibility for our own behaviour, or become defensive to feedback. Some people excel at ‘cracking the whip’ for others – trying to control people through exploding, blaming, complaining, criticising, or not talking to someone until they change.
To be honest, we probably have all done these things, at times. That comes with being human. But having said that, some people are more human than others!
Most of us eventually realise that we are not perfect, that we can take responsibility for our part in the difficulties we have been having with others, and take actions to help things to improve. We often get there through maturity, discovering through experience that blaming and criticising others simply evokes a similar response from others, often escalating the difficulties.
Although trying to control others makes us feel powerful at the time, it tends to put us in a powerless position as we have exhausted our repertoire of actions we can take to influence change.
Through maturity, we learn instead that in acknowledging and apologising for our own ‘difficult’ behaviour, we encourage others to reciprocate.
We learn that people like us more when we acknowledge our imperfections, take responsibility for making amends if needed, and learn whatever it is that we are meant to learn.
We learn that empathising with others, puts them in a better position to hear what we have to say and appreciate our perspective.
We learn that people sometime mis-read our behaviour, but we can apologise for how we came across and reassure them of our intentions.
We also learn that our own perceptions are often inaccurate and there are kinder ways to see the ‘difficult’ behaviour of others.
We learn that we need to adjust the way we communicate for the person we are dealing with.
We learn that we have to have more than one tool in the toolbox when we are frustrated with others.
Sometimes, we need to pick our fights carefully. We can also collaborate to find a solution that is respectful of both people’s positions. We can also make a compromise where both people give up some of what they are wanting for the sake of the relationship. Other times, we can simply accommodate ourselves to the other person’s position. There are also times to be firm with others on what we are wanting or needing.
So, what can we do to influence change in others?
Often, the best way is to simply change our own behaviour in the hope that if we change, this will interrupt the usual pattern and others will change as a result. At the very least, start noticing those times when a problem pattern of relating was interrupted in a good way.
Sometimes, we have to help people see the need for change, by helping them appreciate how their behaviour is coming across or the eventual consequences if there is no change.
We can also let others know the best way to relate to us. I recall one occasion when I responded well to an explosion from one of my colleagues. Apart from speaking to them later, finding out what was going on for them, I let them know that if they have frustrations with me, that is fine, but to speak with me sooner. Here, you need to be specific about the particular behaviours you would like to see, rather than using vague terms like ‘respectful’ or ‘considerate’.
We can, of course, ask or experiment with the best way to relate to a particular person. Some people have a very strong need to be heard while others value being given choice, rather than being told what to do.
There is no guarantee that if we change, others will in return. But I can certainly guarantee that if there is no change from anyone, the status quo is likely to continue, if not worsen.
Through experience, we also learn that some people lack a capacity for change. It is with these people that we have to decide whether we simply cope with their behaviour or distance ourselves from this relationship.
I often say that every person who we experience as difficult gives us an opportunity. An opportunity to learn something important about relationships.
It’s often the case that our most important learning comes from those people who make life most challenging for us.