‘His behaviour is always a bit aggressive, isn’t it?.’
‘I find meetings with Jim difficult every time – his attitude is so challenging’.
‘Oh pay no attention – she’s such a grumpy bunny.’
Labels are easy. What’s hard is to step back from the situation and to notice what’s really happening. And to notice that when someone behaves in ways that are very different from the norm it’s almost inevitable that they will be labelled as ‘difficult’ or ‘challenging’.
How would it be if we knew that such people are different rather than difficult? And that they need something different from us? If we knew that difficult or challenging behaviour is behaviour that embodies the diversity that exists outside our often narrow scope of understanding, what then? I appreciate that this is a really tough call sometimes, I find it hard to manage personally – and it’s an attitude that I’m aiming to adopt when ‘challenge’ arrives in a group situation, particularly if I’m facilitating it, because it works.
There will be reasons for it. Reasons that I can’t see yet. Getting curious about the reasons for the difference is a great first step. Remembering that welcoming difference because it’s a necessary manifestation of reality is another step. Thinking of questions that might help the ‘challenger’ to think about what’s happening and what their contribution might be is another. And doing this instead of responding with classic ‘freeze’ mode really helps me.
During one long Board development day the Treasurer suddenly exclaimed ‘We are getting nothing done here, I don’t know if I can bear to stay.’ Her feelings of frustration were impacting on her capacity to think about the day as a long-planned development day and I knew her departure would sabotage the rest of the time that we had. ‘What do you need right now in order to be able to stay?’ I asked her, trying to stay curious in the moment, already feeling the adrenaline surge. ‘ I need to know that this isn’t a waste of time!’ she replied sharply.
Together the Chair and I decided to call for a Round in which everyone answered the question ‘what have you found useful so far today?’ Listening intently to each different reply, the ‘challenger’s’ face changed and became interested, her shoulders relaxed and she stayed, and went on to contribute to the rest of the day. Whew.
This is part of the full meaning of Difference / Diversity as a vital Component of the Thinking Environment. What use could you make of this when managing ‘the difficult one’ in your world – would this help? I’d love to know.