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When we are describing another person, particularly if we are explaining a difficult or stressful interaction, we sometimes make the mistake of using qualifying words and adjectives that are negative. We say things like, “I have a tyrant boss,” and, “He doesn’t get along with anyone, he's a difficult personality.” We mean no harm; however, we are perpetuating negativity when we incorporate this style. To maintain happiness, we need to be free of this negativity.
Instead of calling the actual person, “difficult” or “impossible,” it’s critical that we acknowledge it is the specific behavior or interaction we are describing. Someone’s mood, words, and requests are behaviors, actions, statements, but are not the person in his/her totality.
The same is true of illness, particularly behavioral health challenges. We do not refer to a person as “a broken leg” when they break a bone as a result of an accident. So why do we refer to a person with narcissistic personality disorder, that we diagnosed and is not even confirmed as a “narcissist,” or a person living with bipolar disorder as “bipolar?” In order to feel and operate with empathy and appropriate respect and consideration for others, we must stop using words to label people when we are referring to a part of a person, behavior during a moment in time, a snapshot, or a moment that has passed. It is relatively easy to forgive, forget, overlook, and not react to a “difficult words,” but harder to be as forgiving to a “difficult person.” Human beings are multifaceted and complicated. The behaviors, actions, interactions, or moments that make us “difficult” are only a sliver of who we are, insufficient in reflecting our dynamic wholeness. While our interactions, intentions, ethics, and morals could be honest, noble, and intelligent for optimal relationships, we must consciously and actively choose to focus on the person, not the part of the person we take issue with. In a working environment, staying focused on personal and group goals prohibits forming snap judgements that are not in alignment with them. If we must label a negative behavior or action, it's important to do so clearly. A bad mood is not a bad person but a bad mood can be present in a good person.
Letting go of negative judgements about people is liberating and promotes a greater sense of individual and collective autonomy and happiness.
A departmental team meets to work on managing a project. A senior colleague influences the other members in scheduling timeframes and delegating work, while your direct supervisor is out of town for a few days. Once she returns, your supervisor schedules to meet with you alone, to discuss the process. It turns out, she is unhappy with your work and project planning in this area. Your senior colleague seems to have told your boss that you were the one who created the schedule, division of work, and specific timeframes. This is not the first time that this colleague has thrown you and other team members under the bus. He takes credit for all that is brilliant while he scoffs at and shifts blame for anything not seen favorably by your boss. His manipulation extends past brown nosing the boss. He has a chameleon-like ease at blending into the people around him, making himself seem favorable to senior people. He flaunts how valuable he is and you do not like it.
Regardless of what you perceived this colleague to have done to you or what his motivation may be, it is important to ignore/block out any negative or judgmental vibes that you are receiving or sending and come at him from the thinking and standards that you set for yourself. You are the person who decides how you are going to think, act, react, work, play, etc. By holding yourself accountable to your own standards, you are less likely to slip into a negative, immature, or retaliatory mindset. One of the best ways of ensuring that we approach all situations with empathy and kindness, using our own style of interaction instead of adopting another person’s, is to be careful with our wording and how we describe other people. Instead of referring to a person as a “difficult person” or even a “bully,” it’s best we remember and use language that indicates we recognize the behaviors of a person are not the person.
The person who decides what you will give your time and attention to is you. Once you have made your daily work plan and scheduling, to finish successfully, you must commit to it. No person or situation has the power, option, or ability to take your mind off of the work you are doing and refocus you onto an agenda that is theirs. Even if they are saying things about you that are false or taking credit for the work that you did, it is not relevant. You have already committed to how you are going to spend your time, and none of your attention or focus is going to these issues that they have caused/created. You show your actions of doing the work, finishing the jobs, planning ahead, and completing the projects.
When you make the commitment that work projects are the paramount priority during the working hours, you will be focused and efficient. Inherent in that act, you have also made the decision to control and monitor your thoughts and what you pay attention to. During work time, it is work. A colleague can choose to focus on you and hurl negativity in your path, but you decide to stick with the agenda that you made and committed to, and you do what it takes to stay on track. It may require you to shift focus from negative thoughts, feelings and words back onto the goal of working. Anything not in alignment with your goals of work needs to be shut down, and you are the person who is responsible for doing this. It is extremely empowering to overcome challenges and reach your work goals.
Your conduct, words, and actions reflect your core beliefs and values. Even if another person is corrupt or dangerous to you, there are ways of responding to that person that still show your core beliefs. Another person’s horrid behavior does not excuse you from acting to the standards of where you hold yourself to be. The more you make it a habit to put forth ethical, empathic, kind, goal-oriented ideologies and behaviors consistently, and even in the face of adversity or in response provocation, the more powerful you become.
People can only use words that are accessible to them because they are in their mind, past, present, and range of experiences. The classic example is the one in which a man suspects his girlfriend of cheating on him. She has never done this. The reason that he suspects her of doing so is because he has, in the past, cheated on his girlfriends. Cheating is in the range of experiences that he knows, has lived, and understands. He also understands that it is done without the other party knowing that it is happening. He knows that it is deceitful, dishonest, hidden, something the other party does not expect. He knows this because he has done this in the past and therefore it is within his range of experiences to draw upon when projecting actions onto others. The fact that he is accusing his innocent girlfriend of cheating on him, says nothing about her and everything about him. Paying attention to the words and projections used by our colleagues will tell us who they are and what they are doing both behind closed doors and in the open.