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Dealing with Unreasonable Behaviour in Others

Unreasonable behaviour in co-workers cartoon by Scott Adams, Dilbert

All about perspective

Unreasonable behaviour is often a matter of perspective. For instance, imagine that you are dealing with a colleague who is resistant to new ideas, changes or decisions made. For the person on the receiving end of the resistance, it can come across as the individual simply being unreasonable. However, it is important that we step back and consider the reason for the resistant behaviour. We need to consider how our colleagues may be feeling, and how it is influencing their behaviour. For instance, a person that is worried about losing their job (and their income) could easily be resistant to implementing automation that they believe threatens their livelihood. 

The question is: how do we put ourselves in these other shoes, and does it really help reduce unreasonable behaviour? And what if after all this the person is still behaving unreasonably – then what?

Step back and breathe

In most cases, and especially in moments of emotionally charged events or conflict, stepping back, breathing, and regaining a wider perspective allow us to think more clearly, behave empathetically, see additional pathways forward and make better decisions.  

Why is that?

It comes down to our perception, and how our perception shapes our views of reality. Our mindset is influenced by our beliefs, life experiences, expectations, and values. By understanding this, we can start to realize that other individuals may have completely different perspectives on what is “right” or “true” in each situation. This also means, that by extension, our frustration towards someone is not the so-called unreasonable person but is our perception of them or their behaviour.

The good news is, when we change how we perceive another person then we can (and often do) change our response to them. This leads to different outcomes (often meaning more constructive or better). So, how do we achieve this new perspective?

The different perspectives technique

This technique, coined by Reg Connelly at Pegasus NLP, takes the useful approach of first person, second person and third person to see a situation from multiple points of view. The essence of this approach is to see things from:

  1. Your own point of view
  2. The other person’s point of view
  3. A detached observer’s point of view

The trick to the technique is being open and flexible enough to put ourselves in the shoes of each person’s point of view to see the issue from all three angles before coming back full circle to our own position. This will allow us to identify and decide on the best plan of action more objectively.

Practice it yourself

Firstly, think about an individual with whom you have a tense relationship. Reflect on your thoughts about the person, the situation and what you believe to be “true”. Imagine yourself standing at the top of a triangle at this moment. 

Secondly, imagine yourself physically stepping into the shoes of the other person (physically move to a second corner of the triangle as you imagine this). In this space, take on the other person’s facial expressions, posture, mannerisms and so on. This approach helps us pick up on nuances we may have previously missed that help us understand what s/he or they hear, see, feel, or think. Then, look back at the first-person position to see yourself. What do you notice from this point of view about yourself? Perhaps feelings, posture or hunches are kicking in?

Thirdly, now take on the fly-on-the-wall detached observer point of view. Physically step into the third corner of the triangle, such that you can observe the other two positions. Here, it is about being completely detached from the situation and dispassionately looking at both points of view. From this position of neutrality, what do you observe about the first two positions? What advice would you give each of the two individuals? 

Lastly, step back into your original point of space (again, physically moving back to the starting end of the triangle). What is different for you now? How are your feelings evolving about the situation and the person? Think about the steps you could take to achieve even better outcomes next time situations like this surface.

Final Thoughts

When dealing with unreasonable behaviour in others, it is important to give ourselves the opportunity to consider difficult events or individuals in our life from a dispassionate or objective lens. The distance allows us to notice things differently when we’re not emotionally associated with the drama. Doing so allows us to access important insights that can guide us on how to adjust our behaviour to get better outcomes next time. Sometimes, even after all this reflection, situations are just untenable – then it is a matter of putting our well-being first and foremost!

If your situation could involve bullying, here is a useful guide to help from Fingerprint for Success to guide your next steps wherever you may live.

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your advice with others on how you deal with unreasonable individuals or situations in your personal or professional life.  

Give it a try!

Cartoon credit: Scott Adams

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