Episode 104: How to Cope With Nightmare Relatives and Colleagues Without Losing the Plot
Holidays and celebrations often come with their own set of obstacles and difficulties. We often approach the festive season with high hopes of the “perfect” holiday, imagined in meticulous detail. The truth is, our ideal almost never happens – precisely because of our assumptions and expectations!
In this special Christmas episode, Corrina Gordon-Barnes shows us how to create the groundwork for a peaceful and successful holiday season, even while navigating difficult relationships with relatives or colleagues.
Corrina guides us to relax our expectation of a perfect holiday with our family, so we can face reality in ourselves and others. She explains a simple framework to allow you to resolve conflict, and walks us through what we can do during difficult gatherings and how to shift our responses to create different outcomes.
Tune in to improve your strained relationships with relatives and co-workers through empathy and letting go of past assumptions.
Here are three reasons why you should listen to the full episode:
Learn how to fulfil your wants and needs for the holidays without resorting to manipulation.
- Discover how to reframe your assumptions and biases about yourself and other people.
- Find out how to recognise when you’re being difficult – and what you can do to resolve the conflict.
[05:42] Corrina’s Background
Corrina Gordon-Barnes is a trainer, coach and facilitator focusing on making harmonious relationships.
[07:18] Celebrating the Holiday with Difficult Family Members
Extra stress and expectations come from viewing this year’s holidays as making up for the lost time.
- We are around family members who have hurt and annoyed us in the past.
- The holiday season is not meant to be easy for many people.
[9:54] Facing Reality Without Lowering Your Expectations
- Before going to a family gathering, practice by thinking about every realistic outcome of the event.
[10:03] ‘Well, it’s all about that: facing reality and then seeing what is in your power to change.’
- Make an honest inventory of yourself and who you are going to be in the gathering.
- When you have come to terms with the reality of your family and yourself, you can exercise control over your actions.
[11:58] ‘Once you’ve really looked at who those other people who are going to be at the gathering are in reality, then take a really honest look at yourself, and who you are in that gathering.’
[13:57] Dealing with Teenagers and Tablets over Christmas
- Start with empathy.
- Become self-aware of your desires to use your devices and meet them halfway.
- Request, not demand or command, for their attention.
- Recognise that teenagers have autonomy.
[16:01] How to De-escalate Uncomfortable Conversations
- It is within your power to make requests to anyone.
[17:04] ‘I don’t think there’s any podcast guests that can come on and tell you ever, that you can change someone in the sense that you can control their behavior. That’s not how human relationships work, we get to stand in our own power, we get to make requests, and then we get to choose what we do instead.’
You can’t control anyone else’s behaviour but yourself.
- Make a true request by asking people to help you meet your want and needs.
[18:35] ‘So make a true request, “Would you be willing?” You know, coming from, “This is who I am. This is what I know about myself, what I want, what I need”.’
[19:31] What to Do When Their Answer Is No
It is more effective to ask every person if they are willing to help you.
- People pick up on passive-aggressive or self-victimisation drama and would be less inclined to help.
- Proactively divide the responsibilities in advance instead of waiting for someone to help on the day.
[21:21] How to Keep Your Boundaries
- When you’re staying within your zone of power and creating boundaries, chances are people will react negatively towards them.
- We can’t tolerate it when people are not happy with us.
- Don’t backtrack on planned tasks because of whinging.
[23:34] Expecting the Pushback and Having Empathy Without Being Patronising
- Like a sputtering engine, wait for the pushback to stop and try again.
- Asking for their help with the task doesn’t mean they’ll be completely happy doing it.
- Recognise their background and experiences that have formed their opinions and beliefs.
- Empathise with them and ask if they are willing to put the topic aside for the gathering.
[29:10] Dealing with Difficult Work Relationships
- Like relatives, our colleagues are a group of people we didn’t choose but need to spend time with.
- Accept that the situation is hard and face reality about yourself and the other person.
- When you dislike somebody, you see an element of yourself in them you dislike.
[31:01] ‘The one place to go would be, every time you hear them being abrasive just to notice if there’s a story that you then make up about you and what that means about you.’
You don’t know how you are seen because it is within the other person and none of your business.
- Give feedback or request from a place of having no assumptions about their character.
[37:39] ‘We like to have a position and identity and be right. And so anything we can do to break down that position, break down that identity, break down that story, can help us to actually see her as she is and be more in the reality in the connection.’
[37:54] Confirmation Bias in Relatives and Work Colleagues
We see everything through our lens.
- Conflict starts from assuming the worst will happen and seeing it happen because of your expectation.
- Approach everything with a beginner’s mind.
[39:35] Approach Others by Letting Go of the Past
- You can see the changes they’ve gone through by seeing them from a new perspective.
- Treat people with the respect they deserve.
[42:33] What You Need to Do If You’re the Difficult Person
- Keep showing up in your new and changed attitude and perspective.
- Have an honest conversation and get feedback.
- Show up the best you can for yourself and others.
[46:37] Live with Your Experience of Yourself and Making Allowances
- Know your triggers and practice the outcomes that may happen to mitigate conflict.
- If you want more peace or connection, the work and change start with you.
- We can’t change people, we can only change what we do and request for them to do the same.
- Change the routine conflict to get a different outcome.
[49:26] ‘You’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for yourself.’
[51:09] Shift the Dance and Change Your Perspective
When you act differently, you also get a different reaction. This changes your relationship with each other.
- The empathy has to be genuine for it to land.
[52:18] Tips to Deal with Difficult Relatives and Colleagues
- Face the reality of who they are.
- Look at yourself with the same genuine honesty and self-awareness.
- Come back into your zone of power.
[53:06] Rachel’s Takeaways
- Request in an empathetic way.
- Approach people with a beginner’s mind.
- Have the realization that maybe your reaction is making you the difficult one for other people.
Corrina Gordon-Barnes is a coach and trainer. Her focus is on making relationships easier at home and in the workplace. She works with individuals who want to form better relationships with their partners or relatives. Corrina is also brought into different organisations to give one-on-one organisational training in team and leadership development. She currently lives in Cambridge with her wife and son.
Interested in her work? Visit her website for more information. You can also connect with her on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
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Introduction: If you want more peace, if you want more connection, if that person is the way they are, you can either fight about it, argue about it, complain about it—you can do all that forevermore—many, many people do. But if you are wanting to feel more peaceful, if you’re wanting to feel more powerful, then it has to come back to you. And if you do that not as “I have to do it.” but “I want to do this because I want to feel more more peaceful, more more harmonious, more powerful, more effective.”, you’re not doing it for them. You’re doing it for yourself.
Wise words from Corrina Gordon-Barnes, who joins us on You Are Not a Frog: Christmas Special, to talk about how to cope with difficult relatives and colleagues without losing the plot or losing out. I sincerely hope that you’re going to get some time off over this holiday season, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. It’s fair to say that any day of celebration can be fraught with difficulties. We often expect more from special days off than from any other times in the year. But why? As we’re often spending them with people we don’t naturally get along with and that we only see very rarely. And there’s probably good reasons for that. How many family get-togethers, Christmas parties, or holidays have been ruined for us by finding somebody really difficult? Now, they may be completely oblivious to this, while you’re screaming into your pillow every night, or going on extra long runs just to survive.
But it doesn’t need to be like this. Corrina and I discussed how the stories and assumptions— often based on past experience of that person—can get in the way and act as a sort of mental filter, making it twice as difficult to cope as you’re already expecting bad behavior. And of course, you’ll definitely notice a lot more if you’re expecting it. We talk about ways to make requests of people rather than demands. And the things you can do that you do have control of when it comes to these tricky people, not relying on them to change to make things better. Of course, for every tricky relative there are even trickier work colleagues, and the principles remain the same.
So listen to this episode, if you want to find out how to get people to do what you want, without resorting to demands or manipulation; how to reframe some of the stories we’re telling ourselves that keep us stuck in predictable patterns of behavior; and how to recognize if you are in fact, the difficult person, and what you can do about it.
Dr. Rachel Morris: Welcome to You Are Not A Frog, the podcast for doctors and other busy professionals who want to beat burnout and work happier. I’m Dr Rachel Morris. I’m a GP now working as a coach, speaker and specialist in teaching resilience. Even before the Coronavirus crisis, we were facing unprecedented levels of burnout. We have been described as frogs in a pan of slowly boiling water. We hardly notice the extra-long days becoming the norm and have gotten used to feeling stressed and exhausted.
Let’s face it, frogs generally only have two options: stay in the pan and be boiled alive, or jump out of the pan and leave. But you are not a frog. And that’s where this podcast comes in.
It is possible to cross your work in life so that you can thrive even in difficult circumstances. And if you’re happier at work, you will simply do a better job.
In this podcast, I’ll be inviting you inside the minds of friends, colleagues and experts—all who have an interesting take on this. So that together, we can take back control and love what we do again.
This is the last episode of You Are Not a Frog for 2021. And we’re having a couple of weeks off over the Christmas period to take a break, gain some fresh inspiration, and hopefully eat plenty of mince pies. We’ll be back in the new year with loads of interesting guests, lots more about the things that will make your working life better and some new stuff such as You Are Not A Frog offer off-grid weekend retreats. If you want to be the first to know about our events and resources, then make sure you sign up to our mailing list and keep an ear out for some exciting announcements coming soon.
We’ve also got a few slots left in the spring for our shapes toolkit training programs, and now booking for summit 2022. We’ve got some new sessions all around How to deal with conflict in your team and How to influence without hierarchy. So do get in touch if you’re interested in something for your organization.
I want to say another huge thank you to our listeners over the last few years who have helped make You Are Not A Frog so successful. I’m truly grateful, and I’m really honored that you give your precious time to listen in. I always love getting your emails and reading the reviews that you leave. So please do keep them coming.
And finally, if you’re appreciating the podcast, as a Christmas present to me, please could you share this episode with just one person who has never heard the podcast before? Word of mouth is the most powerful way of spreading the love. So thank you all so much! Have a restful and happy holiday season and see you in 2022.
So welcome to another episode of You Are Not A Frog podcast and back with me on the podcast is friends of the podcast, Corrina Gordon-Barnes. Welcome, Corrina!
Dr Corrina Gordon-Barnes: Thank you, guys. It’s lovely to be back.
Rachel: It’s good to have you back. Now, Corinna is a trainer, coach and facilitator. She’s one of our shapes, toolkit trainers, and she specializes in relationships—in particular, how to make relationships more harmonious. So I thought, well, it’s coming up to Christmas. We probably all need a little bit of, “How am I going to make my relationships a little bit more harmonious at Christmas?” Because Christmas is a time where we see lots of people that we wouldn’t normally hang out with, maybe for prolonged periods of time and can get a bit fraught, can’t it? But also, I don’t know about you, but work seems to be ramping up rather than ramping down. And there are always people at work thatwe don’t particularly get on with, and it gets into a bit of a vicious cycle. And then whenever you see that person, you start to feel a little bit stressed and triggered before they’ve even opened their mouth. So that’s what I want to talk about today Corrina. Is that okay?
Corrina: Absolutely. It’s all about relationships.
Rachel: It is, isn’t it? And the more I do this podcast, the more I realize that if we could just solve the way we interact with each other, and the stories we’re telling ourselves about things, actually would go a long way to working happier. So let’s start off. Let’s start off with relatives. So we’ve got the holiday season coming up, whether you celebrate Christmas or not. Hopefully everybody is going to get some time off. I feel really blessed. I have a lovely, lovely family. And I really can’t think of any of them that I don’t want to spend time with. But I know that there are people out there that are absolutely dreading having to spend a prolonged period of time with certain people. So if someone was to come to you about this cleaner in your sort of capacity as a coach, where would you even start?
Corrina: I think this is a really significant year, because for many, most, all of us, last year, we didn’t see family. So there is something of that expectation of, “Okay, this is the year that we’re kind of going to make up for lost time.” But what we didn’t get to do last year, there can be that additional stress every year. Christmas can have this pressure and expectation. But this year, I think it’s got that extra level. I think it’s also important to say that when it comes to being with our family, it’s sometimes—it’s not just the people that we find annoying, irritating, stressful, it’s also the people that we actually feel quite heartbroken around. That might be an elderly relative has declined in their health or a younger relative has declined in their health. It might be that this is the first Christmas without a certain family member there. So there’s also that—you know, Christmas can be challenging, because I think we’ve seen—it’s the classic, isn’t it?
We see in the movies, the wonderful Christmas gathering, and everyone by the end of it, it’s all a happy ending. But for so many people, being with family is not easy. So I think the very first place to start is by just acknowledging that—by saying, you know, it’s not meant to be easy. It’s not easy for many, many people. So let’s just be honest about that, and face that reality that so much of our upset and stress comes with there being a gap between our expectations and reality. And actually, my work is all around, “Can we be with reality?” Without the soundtrack, it should be different. It should be more harmonious. It should be easier. It should be, you know, in some way more connected, or more magical. Can we actually go, “Do you know what? This is hard. And I’m gonna I’m about to go and do a hard thing.”
Rachel: That’s really interesting, because I read a book recently called Solve for Happy. And that was, by I think, the Google chief engineer, and he has a really interesting story and that he very, very tragically lost his son. His son was, I think, 19 or 20. He got unwell very quickly and died in an operation. And he then started to explore what makes us happy and what doesn’t. Is there an equation? Is there something that we can approach like a bit of coding to make us happy? And he came out with exactly that equation—that happiness equals reality minus expectations. So if you can’t change your reality, the best thing to do is just change your expectations. Now, that’s a little bit depressing, particularly to people like me that always say, “Yes, it’s going to be brilliant. It’s going to be good!” How do you balance that equation, of really facing into reality without lowering your expectations too much?
Corrina: Absolutely. Well, it’s all about that facing reality and then seeing what is in your power to change. So what I would do, if you have a family gathering coming up, I would maybe even just take a piece of paper and a pen, and write down everything that you think in reality might happen—not your dream of how this Christmas is going to go. But what may happen.
“Okay, my father in law may get really drunk, and he may introduce that topic, that is, you know, politically divisive, and it’s going to have everyone at the table get into an argument. My sister is an introvert (this is not me, by the way). My sister is an introvert, and she’s going to find everyone being together overwhelming, and she’s going to get snappy, and she’s going to take timeout, and that’s going to lead to an argument.”
And just actually facing reality. My teenagers are going to want to go off and be on their screen and chat with their friends not with their grandparents. It’s like, “Okay, this is who my family is. This is what I know about them. These are their quirks, their flaws, their imperfections, their humaneness.” And just kind of take off the glasses of how I want it to be, and look with the eyes of, “This is how it is.” And the example I always like to give this is at a funeral. So at a funeral, there is this kind of strange relief and comfort when the officiant or someone is really honest about the person who has just passed away. They don’t say, “Oh, she was so amazing, and so lovely.” They say, “Gosh, she could be so selfish.” Or “She could be so stubborn.” But with that kind of affection, like I really knew her. You know, I really knew her. I really saw her for who she was. And I loved her with all those—all that humanness.
So that’s the very first place I would start. It’s looking with clear eyes. And then, once you’ve really looked at who those other people who are going to be at the gathering are in reality, then take a really honest look at yourself, and who you are in that gathering. So honestly, “Okay, when that particular political topic gets raised at the dinner table, what do I do?” You know, “Knowing myself as I do, and kind of taking your part, I know that I will take the bait. I will get into that debate. It will go beyond the debate, it will become an argument. It will get into conflict. I do that.” You know, “When my teenager goes on her tablet, I get really kind of passive-aggressive with her, or I start making threats that I’m not going to carry out. Or what is it that I do?”
And that takes a level of honesty, it takes a level of self awareness, it takes a level of owning your parts—because once you see the reality of them, and you see the reality of yourself, you can then look and, “Okay, given that this is the reality, then what choices do I have? What is then in my power?” And we can look at some of those choices.
Rachel: That’s a really good example, I think, teenagers on tablets. Because I have teenagers at the moment—love them to bits, but they do have a propensity to go on their phones every single minute of the day. And you find yourself getting more and more irritated by this. And I think teenagers are a good example, because they’re a good example of people who really can’t change, and who aren’t necessarily the most rational of human beings. And also, what I’ve noticed with teenagers is that they respond very badly to any sort of criticism or even feedback. They take it that you’re angry with them even when you’re not. You’re just trying to give them feedback. So I think let’s use the example of teenagers going on their tablets when we’re sitting around, maybe wanting to play a family game at Christmas.
Corrina: Yeah. Well, I think the first place I would go with that is empathy. You know, for many of us adults, we love our screens as well. We love our phones. We love our tablets. I can certainly put my hand up to there I am at night when I’m on my phone. If I have a few couple of minutes, there I am on my phone. So there’s something about, again, that self awareness that we may start that conversation with the teenager saying, “It’s really tempting to go on our phones, isn’t it?” You know, and have a little quiet word, “Is there a part of me that would love to go on my phone right now?” And just to have that empathy, that it’s not you against them. It’s not like you’re this kind of, you know, perfect human who never ever wants to go on your phone and to meet them in that, “We’re the same.” It’s really tempting to bring your phone. You know, wanting to connect with your friends. Does that feel really important? Or is it you wanting to be entertained or—meeting them where they are. And then what I really love is making a request, a really clear request. “Would you be willing to put that down for the next hour so we can play a game?” And truly asking it as a request. Not as a demand, but as a request. “Would you be willing?” And because you’ve met them where they are, that’s already a disarming first step. And then to make the request. Now, it may be that they come back and say, “I’ve got an hour, an hour with this lot?” I know that sounds horrific. You know, maybe you say, there’s some sort of negotiation there. You know, half an hour. But they say back to you, “I could do an hour.” Great, we’ll take half an hour. We’ll have a great family game, and maybe the family game is actually so enjoyable, that actually, they forget that their phone is there. And they’re there an hour later. So I think meet them where they are, and make a request. And know that they are an autonomous human being. Even though they are teenagers, they still have their own autonomy.
Rachel: So I think the relationship with your close family, with your teenagers, etc., you do have that right to request those things of them. What about when it’s someone like Great Uncle Bill? Who’s there being really obnoxious. And, you know, maybe their political beliefs, you really don’t agree with. And you’re just sitting thinking, “When do I say something? When do I say something? He’s gonna ruin everything.” And you don’t have any power—I know you don’t have power and control over teenagers, but at least you maybe have the right to ask. What about when you don’t feel that you’ve got the right to ask?
Corrina: Well, it may still be that you could make a request. You know, it could be that there is a quiet request made. You know, “That’s a really interesting topic, Uncle Bill. And maybe we could discuss it another time. Could would you be willing to pause that conversation for now? Because I think I think it might lead to some conflict here.” You can always, always make a request of anyone. I can make a request of a stranger in the street. It doesn’t mean they’re going to say yes to that request. But you can make it, and at least then you know that you are doing what is within your power to do. And ultimately, the other person is always in charge of themselves. You know, I don’t think there’s any podcast guest that can come on and tell you ever, that you can change someone in the sense that you can’t control their behavior. That’s not how human relationships work. We get to stand in our own power. We get to make requests, and then we get to choose what we do instead. So it might be that the conversation is going in such a direction that it’s really not pleasant for everyone. And you say, “I’m going to leave the table now. I’m going to go for a walk now. This conversation just doesn’t, work for me. I’m going to take myself off.” So if you’ve made a request, and the answer has been no, then what is again, in my power to do, so that I’m not in a situation that doesn’t feel right to me?
Rachel: And it’s just striking me that when you said that phrase, “Would you be willing to?” That is a very respectful way of doing it. And it really is a request, isn’t it? Whereas I think a lot of the time, we think we’re making requests, but we’re actually making demands or commands. Like “Put your phone away!” or “Uncle Bill, shut up right now, because I don’t want to hear this.”
Corrina: Yeah, absolutely.
Rachel: And that’s where the conflict comes, perhaps.
Corrina: Yes. Because nobody likes being told what to do. Whether you’re 12 or 90—nobody likes that. I think many people are going to create a kind of resistance. And even if they would happily have said yes, because you’ve told them, they’re going to want to, again, assert their autonomy. I think we, as humans, have this real need to feel that we are in charge of our lives. We have that; Uncle Bill has that; our teenagers have that. So make a true request, “Would you be willing?” You know, coming from, “This is who I am. This is what I know about myself, what I want, what I need.” From that place, I can make any request in order for you to potentially help me meet those wants and needs. But ultimately, there is a line where you make your decision.
Rachel: And it just strikes me as being such a better way to do things. So you can either command and go into that aggressive mode, or you can withdraw. And I think a lot of us, we withdraw and we start to manipulate. So okay, no one’s going to help me clear the table. I’m just gonna do it all myself and hope that someone notices that you’re the one clearing up and offers to help. Yeah, I am really, really guilty for this. Whereas, you know, “I’m going to clear up now, would anyone be willing to help me?” That would be great. If they decide not to—yeah, okay, I’m a bit stuck on that. What do I do if they then decide not to?
Corrina: Then maybe rather than with anyone, you could ask each person you know, “Hi Heidi, would you be willing to help me? I noticed there’s a lot to do in the kitchen. And I also want to spend some time with you. Would you be willing to come and have a chat as we clean these dishes? And then maybe I’ll ask your brother and then I’ll ask my partner.” And actually to kind of make those requests of individuals one to one may be more effective in that situation. You know, I think people kind of pick up on that. Yeah, the passive-aggressive thing or the victim thing like, “Oh, look at my kitchen and would no one help me with this?” That kind of the drama of it, I don’t think is probably going to engage anyone to kind of inspire anyone to want to come in and help. And also to think, “Okay, so what’s in my power?” maybe before we even get to the party. If we’re the one hosting a gathering, there’s going to be a list of who’s doing what, so it’s never—that it’s on you to start with and then other people help you. Its, “We’re having a party. Okay, let’s sit down the week before let’s divide up the tasks. Who wants to do the decorations? Who wants to do the this part of the cooking? Who wants to do this part of the cleanup?” So you divide up that responsibility in advance proactively rather than waiting for the day and feeling.
Rachel: Yeah, I have tried that approach in the past. So going on a camping holiday with family, making a rota for who’s cooking, who’s clearing up. It worked to a point, and then there was a lot of whingeing. And I think that is where we probably fall down with all of this. So we might make our request really nicely. And then maybe no one replies, or we go from martyr, and then everybody whinges about it. And then we backtrack and go, “No, that’s fine. I’ll just do it myself.” And then you’re even more irritated. But something I’ve been thinking a lot about recently, and everyone who’s been listening to podcasts, I say this pretty much in every podcast for the last five podcasts, is that when you stay in your zone of power, when you make your choices when you take control of things—and you may be made requests or putting boundaries, we’re then really surprised when people don’t like it. Or we get pushed back or we get whingeing, or we get grumbling and moaning. And then we just crumble again. “Oh alright then!” And then we say, well, it’s not worked. I put in boundaries and they’ve not worked. Actually, the point is they have worked, and other people don’t like it. And our problem is we can’t tolerate other people not being happy with us. Yeah. Is that something that you see?
Corrina: Yeah, absolutely. And on that rota, it doesn’t say, you know, “Simon’s day for cooking without whingeing.” It doesn’t say that; it just says Simon’s day. So he gets to do the cooking, clean up, whatever—with the whingeing. That’s fine. And the important part is that we don’t backtrack and somehow change the rota because we needed that to be done without whingeing. That’s Simon’s day. He does it how he wants to, whingeing or not. You know, I’ve got a toddler, right? If he has to do something, he has to do that thing. But he can cry as much as he likes about it. You know, if we’re going in the buggy, we’re going out for a walk. The point is, we’re going in the buggy for a walk. It’s not “You have to do that without crying.” That’s not the request. It’s “We’re going out in the buggy now.”
Rachel: I think the mistake we make is not expecting the pushback. Because you expect it from a toddler, right? They never want to put away their toys or eat their broccoli today. You’re going to get whingeing, and we should always expect it. My teenagers—I had to tell a teenager the other day that they couldn’t do something. It’s something we had decided that wasn’t working for them, makes them very tired. And we said no. We knew that there would be a reaction, but because we anticipated it, we were able to be much more empathetic and and hold the line and explain our reasons. I don’t know why we don’t do that more with our relatives. And in a minute we are going to talk about work colleagues as well.
Because if you’re expecting the pushback, and you’ve already sort of mitigated for it beforehand, it’s a lot easier to deal with. So I remember once hearing some comedian; he was talking about when you ask a bloke to do the washing up—so this is very sexist, but it wasn’t me; it was this comedian. It’s like, do you remember the episode—people won’t remember this, Corrina. You remember the old cars you use used to have chokes? You have to pull the choke out to start the car. I think about it. Isn’t it brilliant, my car always just starts the first time. That they like pulling the choke out. Have I flooded the engine? He said—this guy said, “I told my girlfriend, that when she asked me to do something, just think of me as one of those engines with the choke out, like is a bit of a spluttering. Like eventually I’ll get going into it but just ignore the spluttering. As soon as I start to splutter and stop, don’t worry, I’ll do it. Just sit with the spluttering until the engines go. And then I’ll be totally happy. But my first reaction is always going to be sorry, I’d rather sit here watching the football.”
Corrina: Of course. Of course. And that teenager is going to want to stay on her phone and Great Uncle Bill is going to want to have that conversation. So I’m going to use that metaphor now. That is such a good example. Because we’re not saying, “Do this thing and do it completely, without any complaint and be completely happy about it.” It’s just, I would like you to do this thing. Would you be willing to do it?” However you do it and I think we all have a toddler in us. That same feeling. You know, when I say to my son, you know, let’s say he doesn’t want to get out of the bath. He wants to play with his toys. And I can say, “I know you don’t want to get out of the bath, you don’t want to do that. And that’s where the crying is coming from. You don’t want to, and we’re getting out of the bath now.”
Rachel: So it’s that sort of expressing the empathy. Can you express that empathy with adults? Or does that sound really patronizing? “I know you really don’t want to clear up. I know, really don’t want to tidy up. I know you really don’t want to. Uncle Bill, I know you really don’t want to stop talking about that, because you’re a horrible, racist idiot.” That’s not gonna work.
Corrina: I think there is a way of doing empathy. Let me think about it. If that was, you know, “It sounds like this is a really important topic for you. Sounds like you’ve got a lot to say about this. And you’ve probably had a lot of experiences that have led you to believe what you believe. Would you be willing to put that aside for now, that topic so we can play this game?” So I think you can empathize, maybe not in exactly the way you were doing it with a toddler.
Rachel: Yeah. So it’s this expecting the consequences. Honestly, this is like family therapy session for me, Corrina. Maybe my approach of, “Right you’re all gonna clear the table, you’re gonna clear it now and there’d be no whingeing!” Maybe that’s not very effective.
Corrina: Your greatest need is that they clear up. So the whingeing is like—it’s like a red herring. Because then they’re just gonna focus on the whingeing and you’re gonna focus on the whingeing. It’s like actually, “Would you clear up, however you want to clear up. We can put some music on. We could all have a big whinge party as we clear up to some big rock music that supports the whingeing musical.” Whatever it is, not being prescriptive about how people do the things which are in their zone of power. And, you know, for anyone listening, who hasn’t done a shape talk, who doesn’t know about the zone of power: The zone of power is what is in my power, is my words, my thoughts, my actions. So things like my requests, the way I use my body, whether I stand up and walk away—that’s all my zone of power. I own those things. Anything which I don’t own, in that way, is not my zone of power. And so much of our time we spend in other people’s zone of power, trying to tell them how they should think, say, do. And anytime we’re in someone’s zone of power, we’ve lost that. Because we literally don’t have power there.
Rachel: That is very profound, isn’t it? It’s just very hard to do. Because I’m thinking about the coaching sessions that I’m doing, and it’s always about, How can I get them to recognize me? How can I get them to do it? And we have to say, you can’t. You literally can’t get them to do anything. I mean, you can behave in ways that influence people, but you can’t get them to do it. And I think one of the reasons why I wanted to talk about relatives at Christmas, not just because it’s Christmas, but because I had a coaching client the other day, and one of the issues was, “I really cannot stand this person at work. You know, when I see them, when I interact with them, I’m expecting difficulties; I’m expecting whingeing; I’m expecting push backs. And I’m finding it really difficult and it’s actually ruining my working day.”
And I thought that’s quite like Christmas and relatives. And, I’m sure everybody can probably think of a couple of people with they have worked, which they might not hate—they might not dislike that much, but maybe they’re feeling quite guarded, and they’re almost expecting the worst. And actually, I saw someone the other day who I find quite difficult. And I realized the minute I saw her, I went into defensive mode. And then I was almost expecting her to say something awful, but she was really lovely and pleasant. And I thought “Gosh, is my thinking is really ruining my interaction with this person?”
Corrina: Yes. So what can we do about that because obviously, relatives, teenagers, you have a little bit more personal influence with. You’ve got that connection. You know that relationship with Uncle Bill is still going to be there. Whether he wants it or not, next year, because you’re related, literally. You can’t get away with that. Work colleagues—it’s much more difficult. You don’t have power over them. And you’ve got to rub along. You got to work together, right? And I think colleagues are actually in some ways like relatives and that they’re a group of people that we didn’t necessarily choose to spend time with and yet we need to spend a lot of time with them. So I think actually, it’s a very parallel situation. The sister in law and you know, team member—it can be very similar. Again, the same kind of principles really—just acknowledging that other people can be very, very hard. You know, we can find people very hard—you said it perfectly, “My thinking about this person is affecting my relationship.” Again, what do I know to be true about them, if I really I face reality? Doesn’t mean you’re going to like it, but okay, this is who they are. Who do I become in their company? Can we have like an example that we could work with here?
Rachel: Yeah, so an example would be—I’m just trying to think of somebody that I worked with a long time ago. I found them very abrasive. I didn’t like their style. Their style was very, very direct, very aggressive, and very defensive. So if you were to suggest anything, you’d immediately get comeback and push back in quite an aggressive, defensive way. And they were quite rude. And you can see them affecting other people as well. And it was quite difficult to work collaboratively with them. And then so every time you saw them, you’re expecting that rudeness. And that defensiveness, and in the end, just backed off and thought, actually, it’s almost not worth it.
Corrina: Yeah, that’s really hard. And again, you know, that first thing is just to go, “This is really hard. You know, this is this person that I’m really going to be challenged by, and it’s gonna take a lot of intentionality and consciousness on my part, to show up the best I can in that context.” The one place to go would be, every time you hear them being abrasive just to notice if there’s a story that you then make up about you and what that means about you. Every time you hear them being abrasive, does that voice in your head say, “Oh, they don’t respect me. They don’t like me. They think I’m an idiot.” Any of that, we can just capture that as a story. And by a story, I mean, it’s thoughts that we’ve put together, we’ve made up to kind of make sense of what’s happening. And then we can question that story. You know, does it mean that they think I’m stupid? It might do, but it also might not, especially if we see them doing it with lots of other people. We might realize, “Actually, I see that it’s not personal. It’s that they are abrasive with with everybody.” Another nice way to go is if you couldn’t use whatever the predominant word is you’re using. So let’s say you’re using the word abrasive or rude if you couldn’t use that word, how might you describe that? So like, in that situation with that colleague is there—If you took the label of abrasive or rude away, is there any other way you could describe kind of factually, objectively how they were speaking?
Rachel: Yeah, they would, they would speak fast, quite loudly, and in quite a certain manner. So very concrete and confident of their own opinion.
Corrina: Yes, it’s nice to break it down into the elements, but together added up to abrasive. Like, I’m a very fast speaker. So I mean, someone might think that’s abrasive if you think of it as just fast, it has much less kind of punch. If you just go okay, so that person speaks fast, you know, that person speaks quite loudly. Again, other people might speak quite loudly, maybe they’re slightly hard of hearing, or they used to speak to someone who’s slightly hard of hearing. So it just takes that kind of that drama, the personal thing, the judgement of it as it must be negative, it kind of strips it of that level.
Now we’re dealing with someone who is speaking fast, quite loudly, and confidently. Again, confidently, could be seen as a positive. We could describe someone who speaks confidently as being very positive. So it just is starting to kind of dissolve, because when we when we put these very definitive negative labels on something, we’re only then hearing them through that filter. And it’s like, “Okay, so here I am with this person who’s speaking quite fast, quite loudly, quite confidently.” Okay. And then bringing attention back to back to yourself. So, “Am I okay? Am I safe? Yes. Am I actually, in any way materially affected by what they’re saying? No. I notice my feet are on the floor. I notice that I’m standing here. I’m breathing.” Then we can really listen, “Are they asking me a question? Okay, I can answer that question. Are they giving me a fact? Okay, I can take that fact on.” And everything just kind of, can slow down and become more factual rather than interpreted.
Rachel: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. And it’s really interesting as like I said, therapy session for me, because it’s really reflecting stuff in myself. Actually, I recorded a podcast the other day that said, “Every time you really dislike something in someone else, it’s probably because you see an element of that in yourself, and you really don’t like it.” And I’ve had two bits of feedback from family members recently that when I’ve been like, explaining an idea to them, or something I’ve heard or something I thought was really good, they felt like I’m telling them off. They’re like, “Why are you shouting at me?” I’m like—I’m really not. I just trying to—and I realized that in my enthusiasm, I get what gets interpreted, perhaps, as aggressive. So nothing of that other person. I’m thinking, “Oh, gosh, maybe that’s true.” And I think maybe one of the reasons I found this person difficult was it my head. My thinking was, they don’t think I’m any good. They’re not, respecting my thoughts around here. They’re just sort of bulldozing me, and then I found it very hard to give any feedback or make those requests, because I was really worried about how it would go down and the full fallout and the feedback.
Corrina: Yeah. So we can then isolate that. And, and that’s really insightful. I love that you see that kind of that. You know how other people might see us, when we try to be passionate, or whatever. They might take that as a negative. That sometimes we’re experiencing other people through that same kind of filter. So then we can take that story in your head. The story is, “She thinks I’m no good.” And we can just ask that beautiful three word question. Is that true? Can I absolutely know that that’s what she’s running? I probably can’t absolutely know that. I’m not in her head. You know, I’m not there. I don’t know what she’s thinking about me. So again, it just starts to kind of dissolve a little bit. It’s not as solid—that story, “She thinks I’m useless.” I don’t know. I don’t know how she sees me and, and how she sees me is so within her. That it really is none of my business. It’s not over here in me. It’s in her—how she sees me. And who knows, she may have had someone—a colleague just like to remind—I remind her of a colleague who actually was really useless. And she’s just projecting that onto me, it has nothing to do with me.
So if we start to break down some of those assumptions, and we start to see actually, “Maybe it’s not personal, maybe she doesn’t think that.” And we have more of a don’t know, kind of mindset. “I don’t know what she thinks of me. I don’t know, if she speaks like that it means she’s being abrasive, rather than just she’s talking fast.” I don’t know. So in that place of not knowing, then can I hear her a little bit clearer? then can I make a request or give some feedback? From that much clearer, I-don’t-know-as-much pace because so often, we go into positions. We go into, “I know who she is. I’m the victim here. She’s the abrasive one. There’s me just trying to do my job. And she’s being so rude.” And we, we kind of dig our feet into this identity.
You know, again, it’s like, you know, just to be kind of blameless about it, this is what we do as humans. We take a position. We assume an identity, and we stay there. And then we have this confirmation bias where—whatever she says—she could say, 10 things, but we’re going to focus on the one thing that confirms our story. Because we like to be right. We like to have a position and identity and be right. And so anything we can do to break down that position, break down that identity, break down that story, can help us to actually see her as she is and be more in the reality in the connection.
Rachel: That is really interesting. Because I think if you’re close to relatives, or teenagers or work colleagues, you’re right. Once you’ve got that ticker tape thought going on about this person, you’re just looking at what’s gonna happen. So Uncle Bill comes for lunch. He might be totally fine. And then he suddenly says, “Well, I was reading in the daily mail the other day.” and you’re like alarm bells going off, and he talks about football. And so we then see everything through our lens. With the teenagers, they’re gonna get really cross, they’re going to be defensive and rude. And then you interpret everything they do through that. And with colleagues, they’re gonna be like that. And you start just assuming the worst, and then you see it because that’s the only thing you’re looking out for. And again, there was another podcast that hadn’t come out yet, which we recorded. And the people, they were talking about approaching everything with a beginner’s mind. I thought that’s so helpful.
What if you approached that colleague that you found really difficult as if you’d never met them before? As if that’s the first time and just took everything they said just at face value, with none of that history. And let’s face it, people do have history. They have thoughts and that is the problem. We just expect them to carry on. But that’s not fair because I would really hate it if for things I’ve done in the past, or times I’ve mucked up or reacted badly—if every time people saw me, that’s all they could think of and that’s how they think of me, and I guess that probably is true sometimes. I’d want people just to approach me as who I am today, without all that history, that past experience, that assuming the worst of me.
Corrina: Yeah, it’s really really hard because we do have this our minds remember right that’s part of what the mind does is it remembers and we do we have I used the example before of it being like the gunk in art, you know, like in the plug holes in the single the bar for something It’s like all this gunk of all that every single time that that’s happened before and every time with that person, it’s like all of that gunk kind of gets brought up. But I think that even if you take just one thing from this podcast, if you go into that family gathering or with your colleague, with that completely fresh, I’ve-never-met-you-before mind and experience them as they are because people do do change. So even if they have been exactly like that before, it could be that today, who knows they’ve read a book, they’ve listened to an amazing podcast, they’ve wanted to change or they have changed. And actually, if we keep holding them as they were, it’s like a dance, they do a certain dance move, then we do the dance move that goes with that, which then leads to them doing that dance move, and we continue the dance. But if they, either they have already changed the dance, and if we spot that, we would then do a different move.
Or we can be the one we can be the first domino, we can be the one to do that first different moods, which might actually disarm them. They’re like, “Oh, mum normally asked me to put my tablet away at the table. She’s not today what’s going on?” Or, you know, whatever the what she told me asked me in a really kind of authoritative way and she’s not today hmm, something’s different here and you just you just shake things up. So it’s not, it’s not going to be the pattern that it has been before them.
Rachel: Yeah, that’s, that’s really interesting. And it’s just occurring to me that maybe we should treat our work colleagues a bit more like family and our family more like work colleagues. Because if I was really polite to my teenagers, like, it would be like, I’d never say to my work colleague, “put that phone away in that meeting.” I say, “oh, would we all be willing to turn off our laptops and our meeting?” Yeah, cuz you got to be respectful for your work colleague. And then if I treated my work colleagues bit like my family, like, maybe I wouldn’t even ask them to put their laptop away, even when it was really irritating, but actually making that request, then it just, it just evens up. And actually what you’re doing is just treating people like a human being with the respect that they deserve.
Corrina: Yeah, yeah. I love that idea. That’s definitely true. We’ve got lots of things that people can try, right? I like to do of experimenting to go with that kind of beginner’s mind. Have the next family gathering the next colleague interaction, be an experiment, try one of the things we’ve mentioned, whether it’s some empathy, whether it’s a request, whether it’s staying in our own power, whether it’s beginner’s mind and just try something different, and see what happens, because it’s that feedback that we get, that gives us a different experience.
Rachel: What If we are the person that people are finding difficult? because I’m sure some of us will be.
Corrina: “It’s never us.” It was so funny, like you and I do all these trainings and everything and it’s always everyone else—all participants in the training. They’re the ones with the difficult people out there. But you’re absolutely right. Someone else, someone in a training down the road is talking about those participants or you know, us.
Rachel: Yeah, I mean, I know, it’s really difficult to believe sometimes I do really annoy people.
Corrina: I don’t believe it.
Rachel: Yeah. My family will be like, Oh, my goodness, Rachel, this podcast is about you. It’s about when you react to it. Did you bring up inappropriate conversations all the time? Or you’re quite rude? Or are you just, you know, so I hate to, you know, any of our podcast listeners probably falling off their chairs by now. No, they’re not. Okay, so when you’re that I’ve been difficult in the past, especially with my family know what I’m like, you know, when I’m tired. So you, you know that people have got that, that experience of you. And that experience of you in the past. Now, you might have done a lot of work on yourself to try change. And I certainly know that I have done a lot of work in order to try and tame that inner chimp and, and not react and try and catch the story in my head.
So I hopefully think I’m a lot more pleasant to be around. and I’m much less defensive, and I can take feedback and stuff. But there will be people that have known me for years that have got those stories and assumptions. And I can’t change that because I can’t control what they think of me. So how do I stop people finding me difficult?
Corrina: Hmm, that’s a really good one. Well, I guess as you should keep showing up in your new way, they will have a different experience of you. There could also be the chance for a really honest conversation about that, you know, referencing things that, you know, “God you remember when I used to”, just to kind of base for you to locate it in the past, or even expressing things that you’ve done to shift that, you know, “yeah, I used to do that, didn’t I?” When you know, before I realized it a day, you could actually give some examples of that so that you’re kind of marking out that change and I think ultimately it is in other people’s zone of power, whether they find us difficult.
So staying in our zone of power and being as we are now maybe and knowing that they may carry those stories and that’s that that is up to them if we showed up as we are now. And as we, if we want to locate the past, but ultimately it is up to them if they want to continue to see us as difficult. And again, who knows why, right? If people find us difficult, it could be that we remind them of someone else who has a similar trait and that just that particular trait, or it’s just that that particular trait may be something that they haven’t owned in themselves, and then they find it triggering because we, you know, they project all kinds of stuff on us. Who knows, like any people can project whatever they want onto us and, and it’s theirs to live with. And I wouldn’t probably spend too much time trying to change how anyone sees us.
If you just show up how you want to show up, then, you know, for me, when I leave a family gathering, the key for me, or any gathering really is, “Am I proud of how I showed up?” “Did I show up?” “Did I kind of set intentions in advance? Maybe about what I know about myself and the people who are going to be there?” “Did I put in place anything to mitigate anything which I foresaw as a problem?” You know, if I know that I do that thing? Will I get, maybe I would, can I get slightly better sleep the night before? Can I not drink? If I know that drinking pushes me over that that edge of I get argumentative, or can I in advance set up but I’m going to go for a walk, I’m going to go and play with a dog in the garden, I’m going to do things, knowing myself if I know that I’ve set it up. I’ve shown up the best I can I forgive myself for any way that I didn’t show up brilliantly. If I can walk away going, “I did the best I could, then that’s what I live with.” I don’t live with their judgments. When I go home, I live with my own experience of myself.
Rachel: I love that thought of being proactive about this, you know, I know that I’ve got these things coming. I know that these are my triggers. This is where I find things difficult. What can I do if I notice and maybe even getting your partner or someone who knows you really well, just to give you a kick under the table? My partner’s very good at kicking me under the table. Like yeah, “Why you kicking me? Oh, okay, sorry.” There’s about three kicks a night.
Corrina: You know, we can do things that we can set alarms on our phone, no one else needs to know what that alarm means and either just we know when that alarm goes off, or we actually set the words on our alarm to say, you know, take a few breaths or dial down the, you know, the debate, or remember, you know, not to da da da da da. We can actually, we can send ourselves into this situation as prepared as we can be with things like with that with a lot of alarms on phones, I think that’s such a good way of kind of catching in the moment. We can have all the best intentions and then we’re getting carried away in the moment. And it’s getting stressful, and it’s getting challenging or being triggered left, right and center. Oh, that’s my phone alarm to remind me of what intention I set before I came here today.
Rachel: That’s a great, that’s a really great idea that we haven’t got much time left in a minute, I’m going to ask you for your three top tips. I got one last question. Because it seems to me to be a bit unfair, that I’m the one that has to make all all the allowances for these difficult people at work or at home. Why should I, if there’s that person at work, and I know that if we ask them to see some extras or something like that they’re going to kick up, they’re going to be really difficult. If we suggest a change, they’re going to sulk why it’s not fair, that it’s the rest of us that have to make all these allowances and work on ourselves. Why should we?
Corrina: Yeah, you shouldn’t, you shouldn’t, you don’t no one is ever asking you to. The thing with everything we’ve talked about here is if you want more peace, if you want more connection, if that person is the way they are, you can you can either kind of fight about it, argue about it, complain about all of that you can do all that you can do all that forevermore many, many people do. But if you are wanting to feel more peaceful, if you’re wanting to feel more powerful, then it has to come back to you and if you do that as a “not I have to do it”, but “I want to do this because I want to feel more more peaceful, more more harmonious, more powerful, more effective”, all the words that are what you want to feel, then you know, you’re doing it for yourself, you’re not doing it for them, you’re doing it for yourself.
Rachel: I love that. So I’m doing this so that I can feel calmer. I’m gonna make this request and if they start to complain, I’m just gonna step back so that I’m not just getting really, really irritated by this. It’s a really difficult concept to grasp, though, isn’t it? This fact that we can’t change other people, we can only change what we do, and make those requests with empathy and actually, as we do that, other people will change and other people will change.
Corrina: Yeah, that’s really is the kind of the magic bit, because we talk all this time about what we do. But when we do change, it kind of again, that dance move thing when we change the dance, other people are disarmed in that, “oh, hang on, something’s changed here. This isn’t I can’t do the dance, I’ve always done, I had to do I have to do a different dance.”
I’m sure we’ve all had the experience we can draw on. For example. I’m going to hospital a lot at the moment, I have a high risk pregnancy and, you know, certain receptionists that I encounter, I’m not the most polite, but you know, with me, just in terms of appointments, and whatever. And you just noticed the kind of how the normal dance in that example of patient and receptionist can be one of antagonism, right, it’s like, well, the appointment should be in the diary, but it’s not. And that’s it. It’s almost like a dance that they just, they used to, you know, you know, sadly, that’s often a dance that you see it with other people at reception. And then you notice, if you shift, if I say, God, it must be really, you know, it must be really hard that your system doesn’t match what’s in my diary, and it just changed, like, they can’t do that dance anymore. So then it changes that and, and you kind of see people as different people than when you walked into that door.
Rachel: I think that’s a really great point that when you shift the dance, when you act differently, then you get a different reaction from them, you suddenly start to feel much warmer towards them as well.
Corrina: Yeah, absolutely. You notice. Oh, gosh, I really noticed something about you that I hadn’t noticed before when I was in that kind of conflict antagonistic place,
Rachel: Actually Uncle Bill you’re really caring and compassionate with this particular group of people. You do lots of work, lots of good work, after all.
Corrina: yeah, because that empathy, you know, the empathy we’ve been talking about, really has to be genuine. Otherwise, it doesn’t. It doesn’t land, there has to be genuinely empathy, empathy with, “Wow, this is a topic that’s really important to you. Oh, wow, that phone is really important to you.” One of your needs has been really met by being on the phone right now.
Rachel: Yeah, yeah. There’s so much to think about Corrina. We haven’t even mentioned whose side of the net are you on, and that is something I really want to talk about. So it’s a bit of a teaser for the podcasts coming up in the new year. So if you have three top tips for how to deal with difficult relatives and colleagues at Christmas,
Corrina: To face the reality of who they are, is number one, to really look at who they truly, truly are without any illusions, expectations, delusions, stories, just purely face that reality. Look, then at your own self with that same true honesty, self awareness. without guilt without shame, just oh yeah, this is how I can show up when I get triggered in that certain situation. Good to know. And then the third one is to come back into your own zone of power. Always, always bring it back to the question of “What can I do? What is in my power?” Because that is what you’re left with that you, you did what you could do within your power? And that is, I think, what has you sleep at night?
Rachel: Oh, brilliant. I think for me, my three take homes from this. First of all, making that request in a really empathetic way. “Would you be willing?” and treating our family members more like work colleagues and treating our work colleagues more like family members, and I think both ways will help. Second, I think coming to people with a beginner’s mind. Like if I had no experience of this person, how would I be experiencing them? Right now? And third, just having that realization that I might actually be the difficult one and maybe it’s my reaction to other people that’s making me the difficult one here. And so what can I do like that in my zone of power before I even go into this situation, because I sort of know how the dance might play out. How might I be intentional about how I change that dance? Yeah. Thank you Corrina, that has been super super helpful. I hope you have a good Christmas yourself.
Corrina: And take all my own advice. That’s the key isn’t it? We know we know so much wisdom is about taking your own advice.
Rachel: Yeah, exactly. We could talk about it now. And then when push comes to shove it’s gonna be difficult but we’re gonna get Corrina back on the podcast I think is that a regular guest because she’s got so much wisdom to share. So if people have any questions to ask or, or dilemmas you’d like us to explore then just drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’d love to delve deeper into these dilemmas because we all have them and I learn something new every time I talk to you, Corrina. So thank you so much for being with us. And we’ll talk to you again in the New Year. Bye.
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