Change the Things You Can
By Mike Martin
One of the great lessons I learned in life was to stop focusing on other people but to focus on what I can change about myself. I only wish it had happened twenty years earlier, especially when it comes to dealing with the difficult people in my life. I have made every mistake in the book and then some but after all those mistakes and writing hundreds of articles about resolving conflict in the workplace, dealing with bullies, and trying to improve the health and wellness of the modern workplace I finally got it.
There are some common characteristics of difficult people but every single difficult person that we encounter is different. That makes it harder to prescribe a simple remedy and needs a wide arsenal of tools in order to deal with “your” difficult person. But two things are almost always true about any difficult person. One is that no matter what you do you cannot change them. They have hardened their skins and their brains against any attempt to alter their behaviors and they are determined to stay difficult.
Secondly, if you are particularly bothered by someone then you have to do something about yourself or the situation. As Mahatma Gandhi said “You must be the change that you want to see in the world.” But if it makes you feel any better go ahead and try to change the difficult person in your life. Let me know how that works out for you.
The good news is that if you are willing there are lots of things you can actually change about yourself, at any age. They include your thinking when you are open to new ideas and your attitude when you are willing to try a different approach. When you are faced with a particularly difficult situation in your life it’s important to remember that you always have choices.
The first is whether or not you want to stay in that situation. This can apply to a job or a company or organization, a relationship or even a marriage, even small situations like a restaurant that is too crowded or noisy for you to feel comfortable in. It is true that there are consequences if you decide to leave that may be extreme or very minute but don’t fall into the trap of saying that you are stuck. You always have a choice.
If your decision is to stay in that noisy café, lousy job or unsatisfying relationship then you will still have choices but they will be limited. It is unlikely that the company you work for will suddenly change how it treats you or that the restaurant owner will shop up and tell everybody else to be quiet. It is almost equally unlikely that the other person in your marriage is going to change the way you want, no matter how much you may want it.
The reality is that you can either accept the difficult situation or person exactly as they are and hope that someday they or it will improve or you can whine, complain, or work out. One path will let you sleep at night; the other has the potential to become a living nightmare. The choice is up to you.
Mike Martin is a freelance writer and consultant specializing in workplace wellness and conflict resolution. He is the author of “Change the Things You Can” (Dealing with Difficult People). For more information about Mike please visit: