How do you turn a tormentor into a teacher? Begin by asking yourself some questions about who they are and why they behave the way they do.
•Who is this person away from the workplace? See the different parts of this person – the parent, grandparent, friend, dancer, skier, singer, or loved one (of someone!). Chances are you’re only seeing the annoying part of your tormentor. Widen your perspective.
•What is their positive intention? Underneath the disrespectful behavior, what do they really want? Respect? Independence? Control? Acknowledgement? Attention? You may realize that you have similar goals, though you seek them differently.
•Why do you think they behave as they do? It’s useful to adopt the attitude that their actions have little (if anything) to do with you. Most people operate out of habit. Even if they don’t get the respect or attention they desire, they can’t change because they don’t know any other way. Maybe it falls to you to help them find it. Suggest ways they might achieve their aims more effectively. Be their teacher.
True Power As you read this article, think of someone with whom your "dance" feels like a struggle. Then, instead of wishing they would change, start with yourself. It doesn't mean you're wrong, at fault, or need to change your opinion. It means that in order to resolve the conflict it works better to begin with what you can control – you.
Remember that you’re doing this for you. You're stuck and you want to get unstuck. Like your tormentor, you've been taking actions that aren’t working, so try something new. When your well-being depends upon the actions of others, you inadvertently give them power. But with awareness and practice, you can make new choices about how you respond to the difficult people and situations in your life – and take the power back.
Our project manager and his employee will have more opportunities to dance with conflict as their relationship changes and grows. Thanks to the manager’s willingness to try something new, they’ve discovered common ground from which to begin the process.
We all have challenging people in our lives. Will they be tormentors or teachers? Our perspective greatly influences our response.