There is a philosophy that I subscribe to: The things that drive you most crazy in others are the things that you have not accepted in yourself. I sometimes share this philosophy with clients who are struggling with a “difficult person”. And, I usually get a lot of pushback.
Let’s take the example of my client’s boss poking fun of my client in front of other people. Here’s how a coaching session with him played out;
After my client told me that his boss is incredibly rude and insensitive, I shared the above philosophy and challenged him by saying,
“Perhaps this is something you also do without realising it?”
“No, I definitely do NOT do that!” Then, I asked him to think a little more broadly….
“What about outside the work context? Are there any situations at all where you might sometimes say something in jest that puts another person in a bad light?”
“No, I am really careful about…wait….(pause) Actually…. I just had a picture flash in my mind of our last ski trip with a group of friends. I was poking fun at the biggest, toughest guy in the group because he got scared to go down a particularly steep slope.”
“So, what was it that caused you to do that in that moment?”
“It’s just… he is so big and tough usually, I didn’t think he would be offended, but he didn’t talk to me for a whole day after that. I guess he was also surprised how scared he got.”
“What made you make the joke?”
“(pause) Well it’s because usually it is me who is the scaredy-cat and I was so amazed and happy that I was not the only one who got scared. I had to point it out!”
“So in a way it was your own insecurity that was at the root of the comment.”
“Yea, I guess so.”
“And that happens. We are all insecure sometimes, right? So now, think of your boss’s behaviour. How likely is it that his comments are coming from his own insecurity?”
“Well… pretty likely actually. (pause) He came from a different business unit, so he knows that we have more technical knowledge than he does. Maybe he is trying to compensate somehow by highlighting other people’s weakness with those jokes. He probably feels that, as a boss he should know more than us.”
“No, not necessarily. Sometimes it is really good to have a non-technical perspective. And, it is refreshing that he can’t micromanage my tasks like my old boss did.”
“Do you think your boss knows that you appreciate that?”
“No, probably not.”
“How do you feel about his insensitive comments now?”
“(Pause) They bother me a lot less. I still think it is inappropriate and annoying, but I don’t think it will make me so mad if it happens again. And I will also make an effort when I am feeling insecure not to be on the lookout for other people’s weaknesses.”
“Sounds like your boss might have provided a valuable lesson by making you so mad the other day!”
“Yea. Not a very pleasant one, but it is helpful.”
My client told me afterwards that this insight helped him repair a very important relationship in his life that had been deteriorating for years.
As much as we may not like to see it, usually when other people “push our buttons”, we have a role in it. People cannot push our buttons if we have no buttons to push! We get emotional in those moments only if that behavior is indicative of something that we have, which we are not willing to accept. In the above example, the behavior was dealing with insecurity by belittling other people.
How does it help us to see our own reflection in negative behavior? First of all, it instantly triggers empathy and compassion in you. Suddenly that person who was driving you nuts doesn’t seem so evil anymore. And, like a light switch has been thrown, their behavior no longer has the same negative impact on you. Finally, you will have learned a valuable lesson about yourself though discovering this blind spot of yours.
For more thoughts and tips, subscribe to my newsletter.