Sunday, 15 March 2015

Asshole Wrangling - Volume 1. 13.03.15

A friend asked me how I deal with difficult people. I thought it was highly peculiar that anyone would ask ME about anything to do with people skills, as I'm about as socialised as a turnip. As she pointed out, though, this had to do with "asshole wrangling," which circumstances force me to do on a regular basis. It also takes one to know - and wrangle - one... So yeah, I can give this a go. Here is my immediate response.

There are a lot of cliches around managing difficult people. A lot of them are based on the assumption that you can either avoid them or enforce consequences upon them. That's beautiful when it's possible, but that's not always the case. In fact, many people are difficult because they know they can safely act out from their position. People who can be shunned, or whose behaviour can be punished by third parties, often learn to self-regulate. Or die alone in their parents' basement. Either way, they are not really a problem.

The real problems are with those difficult people you can't just remove from your life or punish for misbehaving, and know it. Unless you're willing to give up your existing situation to avoid them, all you can do is surreptitiously manage their behaviour whilst ensuring you are not too tempted to smash them in the face with a brick manifest your displeasure in an uncontrolled fashion.

Say I've got a problem with somebody I can't just remove from my life. What I try to do is look at them like ants, basically, and try to work out the mechanics of what is going on:
  • Are there patterns in the behaviour? Does it occur around a set of circumstances? Are those consistent?
  • If I can identify patterns, I try to use them to work out causal relationships. Does circumstance A consistently result in behaviour B? 
  • If I have enough background on the person involved, I can try to work out the underlying reasons for those relationships, but this is not critical. 
The main thing is that I can try to work out methods for trying to avoid the difficult behaviours in the future.

Real-life example. Someone in my wider social circle tends to start uncalled-for, heated arguments and then refuses to de-escalate. By looking at the circumstances of those arguments, I realise that they occur when he is 'challenged' by women or younger men. The causal relationship seems pretty straight-forward: anything seen as a challenge by those groups results in an outburst. I know he comes from a culture where the elderly are respected, and women are subservient. I can then work out that the only way to avoid the arguments is to not offer anything that he can interpret as a challenge.

This doesn't mean that I have to be meek. I don't have to agree with him when I don't. But I know that, however misinformed he might be, I cannot teach him anything. He is just not able or willing to absorb any information from someone who is both younger and female. Hence, there is no point in me trying. 

Working out the roots of the problem also shows me that there is no point in me trying to de-escalate the eruptions. I am neither willing nor able to give the man what he wants - submission, unearned respect, a return to a world where he is the Big Cheese. All I can do is leave him to vent.

This analytical process also helps me realise that the eruptions are the manifestation of an internal process he's going through. They are not about the people he is erupting at. They are not about me, however personal they may feel when I am at the receiving end of one of them. This allows me to stop myself getting triggered and returning fire in kind, which would only escalate things.

This may in fact be the main benefit of this entire process: while I'm busy working out the mechanism behind the behaviour, I'm not reacting to it. That's a bloody good thing, given that my monkey's just been given just cause to get vexed. Instead of handing the monkey they keys to the bus, I effectively thank it for providing me with useful feedback and ask it to wait for further information. This keeps my triune brain working in harmony, and avoids kerfuffles.

Some folk believe this is too passive. Should I not be doing something to curb this behaviour? Well, do I have either the right or the duty to do so? Is it in fact any of my freakin' business? All the man is actually doing is making a prat of himself in public; he's not endangering people or fluffy animals. I am not the Jackass Whisperer.

Some folk believe this is too judgemental. They can go and boil their heads. "The man is an asshole" is a judgement. "The man starts needless arguments under these circumstances" is a faithful portrayal of a behaviour. Anyone who can't tell the difference has some serious problems, the first one of which may be hypocrisy: they're being judgemental of judgementalism. 

Funnily enough, I've never met anyone at all reluctant to apply this sort of analysis to good behaviours. Everyone is happy as pie to work out the root causes of nice stuff, so they can get more of it. How the same method applied in the same way can be iniquitous in one case and perfectly kosher in the other is somewhat beyond me. But hey, I'm an asshole.


technogypsy said...

You're talking about me, aren't you?

God's Bastard said...