Lessons from a Difficult Person by Sarah H. Elliston
Elliston is a highly successful workshop leader and trainer, who offers wisdom learned the hard way—by experience – as well as through rigorous study and certification in many areas of professional training that aid her in her work -- Values Realization, Parent Effectiveness Training and Reality Therapy. She is a faculty member of the William Glasser Institute. Glasser is an internationally recognized psychiatrist and developer of Reality Therapy, a method of psychotherapy that teaches people they have a choice in how they choose to behave.
The methods Elliston offers in her book end the trauma and the drama, and minimize the possibility of confrontation. She gives YOU, the reader, the ability to take a strong, positive, confident—yet compassionate--stance with the “difficult person”—whether that is a relative, coworker, friend, one of your children or anyone else for that matter.
Elliston demonstrates how to:
• Identify the ways to talk to a “difficult” person
• Incorporate true incentives to help people change
• Make real the consequences of the “difficult” person’s action
• Increase success through acceptance and belonging
• Avoid being triggered by the “difficult” person allowing you to neutralize those hot buttons and communicate without judgment
Elliston lays out a proven script for peacefully transforming the difficult person’s behavior and the environment. She gives you the tools for successfully initiating and engaging in a conversation with a difficult person that would lead to change.
Motivations Behind Conflict
Forrest Whittaker is not only a celebrated actor, but also a United Nations special envoy, leading peacebuilding and conflict-resolution in communities touched by poverty and violence.
“I can relate a lot of times…in recognizing that when needs are not filled or not met, that all types of conflicts occur. And unless we’re able to do that, our planet itself will implode because the needs of the people are not met.”
Mr. Whittaker is speaking about people around the world—us. We are always acting to meet basic needs: the need to belong and to connect, the need to feel unique and a sense of achievement, the need to feel a sense of choice and freedom, the need to have fun and joy, and the need for survival.
Dr. William Glasser, founder of Choice Theory and Reality Therapy, states that our brains have these needs in them from birth; the needs are genetic instructions. What we do is not random—everything we do is designed to meet one or more of these needs.
When needs are not met, “all kinds of conflicts occur.” Often the difficult people in our lives are attempting to meet their needs, and the resulting behavior just happens to be in conflict with us and others. The fact is that it may be the only way they have been able to meet their needs in the past, so they continue to do the same thing over and over. They may notice that it isn’t perfect, but it is what they know, and so it is what they do.
In the book, Lessons from A Difficult Person: How to Deal with People Like Us, I urge the reader to explore their perceptions and their values in preparing to have a conversation with a difficult person.
I advocate a process of having a conversation with a difficult person where they can hear how their behavior impacts others. The conversation should meet their need for belonging by letting them know we are having the conversation because we want to interact constructively with them. It recognizes their uniqueness because we identify what is unique about their behavior. It respects the need to feel free because instead of telling someone to change (giving an order), we are giving the difficult person a choice in what they do by merely explaining its impact.
We ask, “Do you know you are doing this?”
“Do you know it has this impact?”
“Is that what you want?”
The process of the conversation may not bring joy or fun to the difficult person immediately, but the connections they make when they change their behavior will meet this need. Finally, the need for survival can be met if, for example, resolving the difficulties allows the difficult person to keep their job.
Forrest Whittaker works mostly in underdeveloped countries but his concept is also true for us. If we don’t get our needs met, we have conflict. And if we don’t work at dealing with conflict in a way that meets our needs, “the planet will implode.”
When we find ourselves in conflict with a difficult person, let’s aim for conversations, not confrontations.
Sarah (Sam) Elliston is an expert in the art of Dealing with Difficult People. She is a top workshop leader and a member of the faculty of the William Glasser Institute, which espouses “Reality Therapy” to foster behavioral change.
But her instructional career began long before she even became aware that she was herself a “difficult person,” traits that began in Lincoln MA, where she grew up. For more than 30 years she has been teaching and training, first as a high school teacher in Ohio and Cincinnati—and then as an administrator in the not-for-profit sector.
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