SALT LAKE CITY — In this edition of LIFEadvice, Coach Kim tries to help you understand difficult people and why they might do the things they do.
I get many questions submitted by readers asking how to deal with "irritating," "annoying," "rude," "grouchy" and "unkind" humans. Some say they have a terrible boss, others have complaining neighbors, and some have hard to handle in-laws. Wherever there are people, we have people problems.
The first step in dealing with bad behavior is understanding what actually causes it. Understanding why people do disrespectful things or say negative things may help you understand what they need and how to communicate with them.
My goal in these articles is to make human behavior simpler to understand, deal with and improve. Some of my ideas or perspectives may seem overly generalized, but if you try them out, you may find they are accurate. After 17 years of research, I have found almost all bad behavior is caused by fear — though I define fear in a broader sense than you may be used to.
I've found that people may become selfish, defensive, angry or grouchy when they feel unsafe or threatened — either with insecurity about their worth or about being taken from or mistreated. In a state of fear, they are focused on one thing only and that's getting whatever they need to feel safe and secure again. It's only when they feel safe and secure that they can access their love and show up selflessly for other people.
To make this simple, I've identified two fears that I believe drive all bad behavior. If you really think about that terrible boss, difficult neighbor or annoying relative, you might be able to see one or both of these fears in play:
1. The fear of failure or the fear of not being good enough
We all battle this one to some degree every day, but people who have a lot of it and are seriously insecure may have all kinds of bad behavior issues. Some of them may overcompensate for their insecurity by showing off or being an arrogant person. Others may gossip, criticize or judge other people as a subconscious way to make themselves feel better. Or they might be the opposite way and be overly shy, quiet and reserved, because that feels safer. These people might play small and avoid situations that could make them look bad or feel less than other people.
If you have a terrible boss that is critical and hard to please, then he/she might have a fear-of-failure problem and just take it out on their employees.
If you have a difficult mother-in-law who is quick to point out what is wrong, then she may be insecure about herself and needs to show off her superior knowledge or put you down to quiet that fear and make herself feel better. Many of the people we may find annoying might just be insecure and trying to cope with that.
2. The fear of loss or the fear of being mistreated or taken from
Any time you are not getting the life you want, you might be put in a fear-of-loss state. In this state, you may be focused on protecting and defending what you want and need. This could make a person controlling, bossy, territorial or defensive. People in this state may often mistreat you in an effort to avoid mistreatment themselves.
A difficult co-worker may see you as a threat because you could get the promotion that they want. A fear-of-loss neighbor might be bothered with your yard and weeds because they affect his property value. When parents blow up over kids messing up the house, they may become angry because the kids are costing them time, energy and possibly money if they wreck anything. Whenever we feel mistreated, we might go on the defensive and behave badly ourselves.
A difficult mother-in-law may feel taken from because she doesn’t get the time with her son that she wants, or she may feel it’s unfair that you spend more time with your parents than you do with her. Can you see how mistreatment may create bad behavior?
Even being stuck in traffic might be a fear of loss experience and can create road rage. If you believe someone cut you off, then you might lash out at the offender and feel justified in doing it. You might not have called this behavior fear before, but it's based in the fear of losing your quality of life.
Once you understand which fear might be driving the other party's bad behavior, you'll understand what the person needs to calm their fear-based feelings and access their love. If you can quiet the fear, then you can encourage better behavior.
If they're insecure and afraid they aren’t good enough, then they may need validation. This might be the last thing you want to give a person who you believe is being arrogant, but it could be what they need to quiet their fear.
If someone is being a showoff or a know-it-all, try telling them how amazing they are. They may soon realize that they don’t need to show off. You can’t fix their self-esteem issues — they're the only one who can do that — but you can make them feel safer with you, which could mean better behavior around you at least.
If they're feeling mistreated or taken from and are in a loss state, then they need reassurance that they're cared for and that you're aware of their concerns. They need to know you'll do your best to honor what they need. Let that annoying neighbor know you're aware of his concern and will do your best on that yard. Let your mother-in-law know you care about how she feels. Just knowing you're mindful of their concerns may make them less adversarial.
When you need to communicate with someone functioning in a fear state and behaving badly, first take time to ask questions and listen to all their concerns, thoughts and feelings. This shows them you care about them. It will make them feel honored and respected, even when you can’t give them what they want.
Now, there are some people who are so deep in a fear state that there's nothing you can do to fix it. These people might be nearly impossible to deal with. They might be irrational or their perspective might be so inaccurate that you can’t begin to deal with it. These people are often referred to as toxic because you just can’t get anywhere with them.
In dealing with toxic people, you should stay away as much as you can and not take anything they do or say personally. Work on having thick skin around them and not letting their fear-driven, selfish actions or words hurt you. When you cannot change another person and their behavior, you get to work on changing yours and becoming stronger.
Just remember, most bad behavior in others has nothing to do with you (even if they're attacking you). It's usually about the other person's fears about themselves that they just project onto everyone around them. Knowing this will help you let most problems roll off.
You can do this.
More articles on dealing with toxic people:
- Coach Kim: Is everyone else the problem or is it you?
- Coach Kim: What's really happening with toxic people
- Coach Kim: How to deal with rude co-workers
- Coach Kim: Dealing with toxic people
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