How To Change Everyone Who Bothers You

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Oh not this again!

The One Trick That Will Change Everyone You Meet

We choose how we see the world. We can choose to see a world where everyone is out for themselves. Or we can choose to see a world where everyone has the same needs, but we have different ways of meeting those needs.

I’ve seen the world in both ways and I can tell you that the first one made me really unhappy. And the second way helped me have more patience and compassion for everyone I met.

Yet even though I know this there are still times when I meet people that I wish I could change them. And every time it happens, I learn something very important.

The Comment

The other day when I signed on to wordpress, I was greeted by this comment about my post, Which World Do You Belong To?

This is probably one of the worst nonsensical responses I have seen to the photo of Maria. For someone who doesn’t want people to fall into a category you’re sure an expert on determining which people fall Into based on what they post on their Facebook pages. Gotta love a hypocrite who is holier than thou. Is there a category for that? Maybe you can come to my blog and tell me I’m not part of the world and let me know what category I fall into. You do realize by drawing these ignorant conclusions of people you are the problem. I’d like to know how you know what people are thinking about each other too. Have you very heard of self projection? Nice try fluffing it up with pictures of the elderly and sushi though.*

When I first read this comment I felt frustrated and a little confused. The commenter seemed to be hearing the exact opposite message from the one I had intended to send.

Whenever I confront a difficult person or comment I have one or more of these five reactions.

The Five Ways We Meet Difficult People

1. Argument

The first thing I felt when I read this comment was a desire to argue. In my mind, I started to imagine what I would say to her if she was in front of me.

I would to explain the parts of my post she had misunderstood. I would explain to her why she was wrong. And I would change her mind with my compelling argument.

2. Defensiveness

When I read the comment felt attacked and vulnerable. I wanted to defend myself.

I imagined trying to get her to see that I was a good person. I thought about what I would say so she’d see her original assessment was wrong. I thought about all the things that I do that would demonstrate my goodness. I would convince her of my goodness and defend my integrity.

3. Judgment

The next thing that came up is hard to admit because I’m not proud of it. It was judgment.

At first it was a critique of her grammar. Then I had judgmental thoughts about her age. Then I looked at her blog briefly and had judgmental thoughts about her desire to compete in a bikini competition.

All of these thoughts had the same goal. They were an attempt by the defensive part of myself to make this woman bad. Because if could make her bad then I could be good. And then I wouldn’t have to consider her comments.

Again, I’m not proud that my mind went there, but I think it’s important to be honest about it.

4. Pain

The next thing I felt was pain.

The first pain was guilt over my judgmental thoughts. The next was pain from my reaction to the comment.

I thought about my intention with my blog and with that post in particular. I thought about how I try to put my heart and mind into every post I write. I felt in my gut how hard her comment was to hear. Unlike the other reactions my pain reaction wasn’t intellectual it was visceral.

5. Avoidance

The final thing that came up was a desire to avoid, both the comment itself and my feelings around it. When I feel pain avoiding, it seems easier then dealing with it.

I thought about not approving the comment. I went off the page and didn’t look at it for a while. Whenever the pain came up, I tried to think about something else.

Why This Doesn’t Work

These reactions weren’t satisfying because they trapped me into seeing this woman as a threat. They encouraged me to only think about myself. And they prevented me from meeting this woman where she was.

Despite all of my reactivity, I knew in my heart that this woman wants many of the same things I do. I know that I can’t change someone through judgment or pain. But I realized I could change her if I changed the way I looked at her.

If I was willing to be compassionate and meet her as she was, I might be able to turn her from an enemy into someone I cared about

Five Steps to Changing Anyone You Meet

1. Move Beyond Reactivity

If you are caught in anger, judgment, or hurt it’s unlikely you’ll be able to meet someone as they are.

Before you do anything else, make sure you have enough resources. Get empathy from someone you trust, give yourself empathy, and/or do something that helps you resolve your feelings.

If you try to respond while you are still upset it will likely leak through and the other person will be able to tell.

2. Don’t Wish They Were Someone or Something Else

People are who they are. That doesn’t mean they can’t change, but they don’t change just because we want them to and won’t change if we try to force them to.

Accepting someone is hard, but the first step is to stop wishing they were someone else. If you try to meet someone from a place of wanting them to be different, it will taint the interaction and make it hard for you to be authentic.

3. Be Willing to Hear Them

One of the hardest things when dealing with someone we disagree with is our ability to hear them. We think that if we hear them we will be agreeing with them.

But hearing someone isn’t agreeing with them. Hearing someone is about being willing to see them as human and admit that they have a right to express themselves.

If we aren’t willing to really hear what someone has to say, then how can we expect to meet them as they are? And how can we expect them to be willing to hear us in return?

4. Listen for Feeling and Needs NOT Words or Strategies

Once we are willing to hear someone, we need know what to listen for. It’s crucial that we let go of their words and strategies; and listen to their feelings and needs.

Feelings are human emotions we all experience, like joy, fear, or frustration. While aggressive words can be hard to hear, the feelings they express are easier to understand.

Needs are universal values that we all share like: love, acceptance, joy, and authenticity. We often say things like, “I need you to listen,” when what we really need is to feel heard. Someone can listen and we can still feel like they aren’t hearing us. Other times we need to talk to someone else who is actually able to hear us.

When listening to a difficult person listen for these universal values. When we can hear the values underneath what other people are saying we can more easily understand and connect with where they are coming from.

5. Open Your Heart and Respond Authentically

Once you have done all the things above then you may be ready to respond authentically. But before you do it’s crucial that you have an open heart and that you are clear about where your response is coming from.

An authentic response doesn’t look any particular way. I always try to respond with patience and understanding, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have boundaries. My honest expression might let others know if what they expressed bothered me.

Meeting someone isn’t about walking on eggshells. It’s about doing your best to show up as your whole and best self with all the wisdom and compassion you can muster.

The Reply

I did my best to follow these steps before I responded to the comment at the beginning of this post. I dealt with my reactivity and then when I was calm I went back to this woman’s site and read her blog more closely.

Her story was really inspiring. She talked about how she overcame depression using fitness. She talked about discovering a deeper meaning through exercise and how it helped her connect with her desire to be a better person. As I kept reading, my heart opened up.

I began to guess why she might have responded the way she did. I imagined that she read my post and thought I was attacking people who exercise. I wondered if maybe she has heard those attacks in real life.

I imagined how hard those attacks would be to hear because exercise has been such an important part of her process of recovery from depression.

Once my heart was open, I did my best to respond. I don’t know if she read my comment or agreed with what I had to say. Maybe my response made her angrier.

But I realized that none of that mattered. What was important for me was that I was able to let go of my judgment and projection and do my best to try to meet her as she was.

Because the truth is, we can’t change other people by trying to get them to be something else. But we can change people when we stop seeing them as threats and begin seeing them as human beings just doing the best they can.

Question: How do you deal with difficult people?

*Note I edited this comment slightly to correct some typos and grammatical errors.


9 thoughts on “How To Change Everyone Who Bothers You

  1. I read the blog that the above reply was from, and although I enjoyed the actual blog, it was your responses to people’s replies that actually compelled me to follow you. Thank you!
    Trying not to be judgemental is hard work sometimes, as you have noted and often comes from a place of hurt. I notice I am often more accepting and have more patience with people if I try to meet them where that actually are, not where I would line them to be. When I remember that unless they actually know me well, it’s not personal, it’s easier to respond in a patient and caring manner. It’s also okay if they don’t agree with me, I think my life would not be as interesting or as invigorating if everyone I came in contact with was just like me.

    On a side note that made me smile this morning, for whatever reason I thought you were a woman?! I can’t remember how I stumbled across your blog, or how on earth I missed your photo at the top!

    1. Thanks patricia, your comment made me smile. I took the fact that you thought I was a woman as a very nice compliment. I love that you see your life as more invigorating because you meet people who challenge you. Thanks so much for bringing more patience into the world.

  2. Hi Sam–
    I just wanted to let you know that I read your blog all the time, and that more often than not, the entries have a way of being just what I need to hear that day. I really look forward to reading whatever you write. Thanks for all the inspiration!

    1. Thanks Page. This really touched my heart. I feel very grateful that you come by and spend your time to read what I have to write. If it weren’t for readers like you it would be much harder to share what I love. I’m honored to have you as a reader.

  3. I read all of this, and though I agree with almost all of it… I still don’t think it was okay that ashley responded the way she did. It was worded very rudely, and didn’t have any other purpose other than to offend you. I’m really glad you shared this though, I wouldn’t have felt the need to validate myself to someone who clearly doesn’t understand the purpose of my message.

  4. Umm dude you are gonna blow up! Your counter-intuitive non-reactive thinking is living GENIUS. Then you’re taking this no-nonsense steps 1-5 approach to understanding it and resolving the issues – I LOVE IT and I think millions of people are going to enjoy your thinking and your writing.

    1. Thanks for your kind word Charles. This is one of the three good things I will tell my partner about my day. I’m happy that you enjoy my offering and I’m so honored you think it will have a broad appeal. So long as I keep attracting readers like you I’ll know I’m on the right path.

  5. Hi Sam – I agree with most of your comments about dealing with people you don’t like (and, forgive me, please, but you have a couple of typos or punctuation mistakes in the body of your own writing – I can’t help but see them – again, the editing background). Being judgmental is human, and, I would note, not always misplaced – the better (in terms of motivation and careful observation) judgment we have of people, places, situation, ideas, or whatever we may encounter, the better we are able to gauge our own gut reactions, secondary reviews, and, often, the relative danger presented. I do find that when I am in a lousy mood, I am likely to encounter very few likeable people – even among those I usually like. Whatever the situation, however, I have learned two extremely effective and useful “tools” in the past decade or so – 1) the rule of “Restraint of Pen and Tongue” – which you discussed in your section on waiting awhile before responding. As someone who often has far too quick a tongue, or keyboard, placing a moratorium on my response to an unpleasant comment has reduced the number of apologies I have either had to make and did, or had to make and didn’t. The 2nd is even more to the point, and, I find, more effective: Simply put, you don’t have to attend every fight to which you are invited. I’ll leave the ruminating to you.

    By the way, this was a good exercise for me – I am in a dangerously negative place in life right now where I can hardly call to mind a single person I like. That’s MY problem, and not anyone else’s.

    1. Thanks for your comment Maura. I’m glad you can see past the syntax to get the meaning. I have been trying to be more diligent on that front since you started reading my blog. If you feel so inclined you can email me and I can fix the errors you find, but please don’t feel obligated to do so.
      I live your 2nd point about not attending every fight you are invited to. I thought about talking about that more in the post, but I have to try and keep myself on topic. Thanks for brining it up in your comments. My blog is infinitely richer because of readers like you.

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