Are You Difficult?

by Rebecca Morgan, CSP, CMC on March 5, 2019

Rebecca Morgan quote Photo: Rebecca Morgan, Cappadocia, Turkey

 

Have you ever been told you are difficult?

When I’ve labeled someone difficult, they have been some of these:

  • obstinate, uncooperative, inflexible, demanding, dictatorial
  • undiplomatic, blunt, condescending, arrogant, caustic, hyper-critical, argumentative (often just for the sake of it, not because they believe their arguments).
  • incongruent, dishonest, passive agressive, uncommunicative, inconsiderate, insensitive, unreliable, defensive, petty

So imagine my surprise to be told by a colleague, Peter, that Jim, whom I rarely work with, felt I was difficult.

While I am not fond of feedback from a third-party because specifics are minimal, if any, I take any negative feedback seriously. I use such feedback to explore how much, if any, of the feedback could be truthful, and how I can correct any dysfunctional behaviors.

It left me wondering what “difficult” really means.

Of course, “difficult” is subjective, so it’s hard to know what another person’s definition is. Because of reasons I don’t want to get into, I did not feel I could ask Jim for clarification.

Since Peter could not offer examples or clarification, I reviewed my recent interactions with Jim to see if I could unearth what earned me the “difficult” moniker. In every recent interaction with Jim I could only remember being respectful, polite, friendly, acknowledging, professional, and clear.

We can, of course, have a skewed view of our behavior. I have increased my sensitivity to discern when I’ve offended someone or behaved inappropriately, and I apologize as soon as I realize it. Sometimes a friend brings to my attention some less-than-admirable behavior, and I am grateful for this immediate and direct feedback. I apologize as soon as possible.

If you’ve been told you are “difficult,” do you wonder if this label is only about your behavior, or might it only minimally be about you? This “difficult” label made me explore if something else could be going on. Possibilities included:

  1. I’d been difficult with Jim, I just wasn’t remembering when.
  2. Jim misheard or misinterpreted something I said/did but didn’t clarify with me.
  3. I reminded Jim of someone with whom he has had problems.
  4. Jim was threatened by clear, confident, assertive people.
  5. Jim had trouble accepting the behaviors from a woman that he would have ignored from a man.
  6. Some of all of the above.
  7. Who knows?

While it can be interesting to understand the source of interpersonal conflict, it is not helpful unless there is a lesson for you.

I will be interacting with Jim in the future, and I will be as polite, professional, and friendly as I was before. Perhaps there will be an opening that will allow me to ask him directly about what I’ve done that is off-putting.

Have you been told you are difficult? How have you reacted?

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