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Archive for September, 2011

Dealing with Angry People

Monday, September 26th, 2011

Sometimes people are impossible. That doesn’t mean you have the right to behave the same way–or shoot them. But it’s oh so easy to get involved in the “tit-for-tat” of an angry exchange.

In less than 24 hours, I’ve been caught in two situations where someone was irrationally angry. The first case was in a parking lot. A couple were blocking exit from our parking space with a truck into which they were loading materials from the vehicle parked next to us. I asked if they could move the truck a couple feet forward so we could get on with our day. The woman acted like we’d just asked them personally to pay off  the entire national debt.

This morning I did a gratis presentation for the local office for the state unemployment agency. I always advise people, especially older people who tend to have wonderful experience, to go beyond just filling out applications and sending resumes online. You better your chances of meeting someone who needs to hire a person with the very skill set you have if you talk to people about what you are trying to do.

This is usually not controversial stuff. But this morning, a guy in the audience leveled a lengthy tirade about how what I was saying wouldn’t work for his situation-which involved the high tech industry. He was angry, and it was clear that he had no idea how he was coming across. When I tried to explain that what he thought I said wasn’t what I’d actually suggested, he re-launched.  This was not just a misunderstanding.  This guy had an agenda.

Sometimes, people don’t want to understand.  They are angry, and they want to stay angry.  They feel sorry for themselves and want to continue to feel the self-righteousness of being aggrieved. They don’t want to fix whatever it is that’s broken in their lives, they want to be right.  Listening  is not part of their process.

How to do you deal with these people?

When it’s a quick interaction, just let it go.  Shrug your shoulders and get out of there.  But what about the second situation–where you really do a have responsibility to say something?

After spending way more time that I should have trying to get him to see what he was doing, I just said “I’m sorry.  I can’t help you.”  I didn’t like admitting that, but it was the truth. He railed on for a few more minutes, but the heat of the exhange stablized immediately.  When he took a breath, the group moved on to more productive use of our time.

Both exchanges were unnerving.  Both left me fighting not to be angry myself.  But there was also that niggling concern:  how could I have made them go better?

Sometimes, you can’t make them go better.  When someone else is behaving irrationally, no amount of logical behavior on your part of going to get them back to sanity.  Today’s world if full of stress and folks who hold onto theirs are going to be this way on occasion.  They are not bad people, they are inept at social interaction when under stress.

You think I’m going to suggest you empathize with them, right?  Nope.  When someone is on a rant, empathy is the last thing they are looking for.

The  best option for dealing with irrational, angry people is to disengage.  Admit  you can’t help and stop trying.  Leave if you can.  When you don’t invest in the conversation–especially to try to prove your point–there is no new fuel for the fire.   No one wins in this kind of situation so forget the idea that if you just get in one more sentence they will see your point.  They won’t.

Anger often stems from fear.  Fear can make you  lash out in unexpected ways.  The less you do to make the person angrier, the safer everyone will be.

Is it “right” that we should have to worry about dealing with this kind of person?  Of course not.  In the ideal world, all of us would behave perfectly in every situation.  But it’s not a matter “who’s right.”  Reality includes a lot of mistakes.  See unearned fury as a mistake and get out of the direct path of the vitriole as fast as you can.

Then forget the whole thing.  Replaying the incident in your head 72 times doesn’t help either.


Staying Positive When Leaders Stumble

Wednesday, September 14th, 2011

The choice to let someone else’s behavior ruin your good day is yours alone, whether it’s the nasty kid in front of the library or the latest congressman (or woman) to admit to mind-numbingly inappropriate behavior while in office. When you let those kinds of things make you unhappy, you’ve basically handed over something the bandits didn’t even ask for. That’s a bit like telling the thief who just broke into your house where the family silver is hidden when they weren’t even looking for it.

Letting anyone else take away your joy is victim behavior. All it will get you is more of the same. Don’t surrender your happiness to some bozo in a headline.

There are two things to remember about all the awful behavior by people in high power that we see these days. First, much of what we hear about is amplified by the media outlets’ need for “news.” We hear a lot more about a lot more than we did decades ago because there are so many more news outlets trying to get our attention. Some would argue that it makes us better informed. But that’s true only if the information we are being bombarded with is relevant. Most of the time, that’s not so.

This kind of “news” is not in anyone’s best interest. But it gets wide distribution because they need to report something. And for ratings, it’s best if that something is information that most of the other outlets don’t have. Muck-raking can give you an edge. (At least until the whole house of cards collapses around you as it seems to be doing for Rupert Murdoch and company at the moment.) So don’t put a lot of faith in what you’re hearing in the first place.

The second thing to remember is that these people are just people unless we give them that high power. When they don’t carry the mantle well, we need to be better about shunning them rather than listening to every inane thing they say and do thereafter. And as soon as we have the chance, we need to demote them. Instead, we accept repeated, steady doses of garbage that wasn’t worth hearing about in the first place. If we stop tuning in, the media will stop churning it out. If we stop tolerating it and force these people out of the high profile positions they hold whenever we can, those who come behind may make more prudent choices.

We need to “vote” however we can to get these people off the stage of our reality. Turn off the TV. Don’t read the juicy details of what’s written about the sordid behavior. Show up for the next election with a well-informed opinion about who would do a better job. Get involved in getting that person elected.

Right now, the NFL owners and players are still arguing about how to divvy up ridiculous amounts of money derived exclusively from the loyalty of fans. We would all do well to tell them to go to hell when they decide to get on with the season. Same with the NBA. Greed isn’t pretty in any uniform.

Keeping your own good humor means taking action to disassociate yourself from the bad behavior. Write your senator if you don’t like how he or she is handling things. Do what you can to take a stand against whatever you see that’s wrong. Then let it go and get on with your life.

This junk is not worth your ongoing focus. Pull that dead skunk off the road for the safety of other drivers and then get the hell out of there rather than eulogizing it at a funeral. Handing over your happiness to the fat cats and bad actors is not what you need.


Kindness: The Low Cost Miracle Cure

Wednesday, September 7th, 2011

Try a little kindness when things aren’t going well. It’s amazing what you can get back on track with just a little dose—as the giver rather than the receiver.

For some reason, kindness tends to take a back seat when difficulties mount and that’s too bad.  That’s when we need to use it most—and I do mean give it not get it.  (Though being on the receiving end is nice, too….)

Being kind is not a matter of having money to throw around.  It’s more a case of noticing what you can give—a smile, a nod of recognition, your place in line if you really aren’t in a hurry.  Kindness is a simple, effective way to connect with the rest of the world.  And that, quite often, is what we need, even if the pain comes in different packaging—like a frustrating job search, bad news from the doctor, or mean-spiritedness from someone in your life.

One of my best experiences with the magic of simple kindness was in Scotland almost two decades ago.  I went out for a walk one morning in Edinburgh and passed a white-haired man also out for a morning walk.  I smiled at him.  Then came the magic.  I didn’t just get a simple smile in return.  The man’s whole face lit up with appreciation at being acknowledged as a fellow human.  Him showing me that moment of happiness made me delightfully happy.  All in literally seconds, with just the use of a few facial muscles.

That’s the biggest deal about kindness.  It’s not something you “do for someone else.”  Yes, your effort is usually extended toward someone else, but the benefits go both ways.  I smile again every time I think of that man’s reaction.  I feel good about being human and being alive again and again because of that one experience—where I made the easy effort to connect by smiling at him.

This isn’t just something to do in large, sophisticated foreign cities on morning walks.  Opportunities for little acts of kindness abound for all of us every day.  Pulling the neighbor’s garbage can out of the road when it blew there.  Trying to keep your car as far as you can from the cyclist you’re passing on a city street.   Letting mistakes go unmentioned when noting them is not going to improve the outcome.

So much of our energy these days seems to be focused on making sure other people know there’s something wrong with them.  Congress for sure.  But even with friends.  A dear woman I’ve been hiking with for over five years told me Sunday that my feet turn too far out when I walk.  What was the point of that observation?  (They’ve been this way for 65 years, and I walk fine unless I try to turn them in the way hers go.)

What would happen if we started an epidemic of kindness?  I’m not talking about huge acts of generosity like funding schools or building hospitals in Somalia.  If each of us decided to do five small acts of kindness everyday, how would things change?

In part, we’d all feel better about ourselves, I suspect.  Most of those “this is wrong with you” comments stem from I-don’t-feel-so-good-about-myself thoughts.  Rather than trying to build yourself up by knocking someone else, do something kind.  It doesn’t even have to be for that person.  The resulting sense of peace alone is worth the effort.  Plus that other person might then be motivated to do some other kindness.

Kindness affects the receiver but defines the giver:  “I am well enough off that I can be kind.”  That sense of abundance doesn’t flow from the size of your investment account.  It comes from the strength of your character.  We can all be rich enough to be kind.  We just have to choose it.  Every day.