My Journey as a Difficult Person
People can use this picture to boost self-esteem: if you feel like a kitten, see yourself as a lion, and conquer the world. Perhaps I took this technique a touch too far.
I thought I was a clever kitten, but my boss showed me that what the world saw was someone who acted lion-like, with anger, defensiveness, and disrespect. One day, I was having a mini-tantrum, and she pointed it out, inviting me to stop. I responded, honestly surprised—I didn’t know what she was talking about. She described me stomping around my cubicle, muttering, agitated, searching through papers, and added that my team members couldn’t focus or get work done.
I hadn’t thought anybody else noticed, and didn’t think it impacted anybody else.
This “Aha!” moment began a journey of recognizing that people perceived me as difficult. My husband, son, and friends concurred that I tended to flare up and argue. I asked for feedback and began to pay attention to how frequently I felt passionate and annoyed and how I was being perceived. I felt like a tiny person (kitten) inside, but the world saw a confident, educated, competent woman with aggressive tendencies (lion).
I had gotten sober a few years before, and the simplicity of the twelve-step program assisted in my self-evaluation process. Friends reminded me that I am not the center of the universe and to “listen, and learn.” At work, when I found myself wanting to speak out, I paused and thought, You’re not in charge here. How does my question serve us?
It was challenging in my teaching role when I became emotionally entangled with content. For example, I taught people how to manage volunteers, and sometimes volunteers worked with schools and hospices that were for-profit entities. I passionately believed that if an organization made a profit, it should pay staff to do the work. I learned to say it was merely my opinion because volunteers, wherever they are, should still be well-managed, and teaching that was a job I wanted to keep.
The pit of my stomach twisted most when I believed I was being picked on—I became defensive. I looked at those situations and explored whether the reactions were justified. Often they weren’t; they were a habit. Usually when someone said to me, “Don’t take this personally, but…” I would take it personally, whatever they said. I learned to examine their content and let go of their personal judgments. If there was something I could actually do differently and it was important, I tried to change.
In one conversation with a supervisor, I asked, “Do they want you to fire me?” She said, “No. They want me to fix you.” I heard that I was valued and I needed to change. So I worked at doing things differently.
None of this was fast or easy. I had various counselors and helpers.
I found that teaching about difficult volunteers and then difficult people was the most eye-opening. I began to see how I would have preferred others to express their perceptions of me and my actions, and I began to see them and myself differently.
I have learned to ask myself, “What’s going on?” and to ask others if I owe an apology.
It is an ongoing process.
Elliston is a highly successful workshop leader and trainer, who offers wisdom learned the hard way—by experience – as well as through rigorous study and certification in many areas of professional training that aid her in her work — Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute. Glasser is an internationally recognized psychiatrist and developer of Reality Therapy, a method of psychotherapy that teaches people they have a choice in how they choose to behave.
The methods Elliston offers in her book end the trauma and the drama, and minimize the possibility of confrontation. She gives YOU, the reader, the ability to take a strong, positive, confident—yet compassionate–stance with the “difficult person”—whether that is a relative, coworker, friend, one of your children or anyone else for that matter.
Elliston demonstrates how to:
• Identify the ways to talk to a “difficult” person
• Incorporate true incentives to help people change
• Make real the consequences of the “difficult” person’s action
• Increase success through acceptance and belonging
• Avoid being triggered by the “difficult” person allowing you to neutralize those hot buttons and communicate without judgment
Elliston lays out a proven script for peacefully transforming the difficult person’s behavior and the environment. She gives you the tools for successfully initiating and engaging in a conversation with a difficult person that would lead to change.
Sarah (Sam) Elliston is an expert in the art of Dealing with Difficult People. She is a top workshop leader and a member of the faculty of the William Glasser Institute, which espouses “Reality Therapy” to foster behavioral change.
But her instructional career began long before she even became aware that she was herself a “difficult person,” traits that began in Lincoln MA, where she grew up. For more than 30 years she has been teaching and training, first as a high school teacher in Ohio and Cincinnati—and then as an administrator in the not-for-profit sector.