Dealing with difficult people? Think about growing lettuce
Given all the jokes about dealing with difficult family members during the holidays, it must be something that many of us really do face each year. Whether you have an immediate need to prepare for a difficult conversation or just want to be ready when you get back to work, this reflection from Thich Nhat Hanh will help you cope. I've turned to these words on many past occasions.
To begin, picture a healthy garden:
“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don't blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water or less sun.
You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person.
But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce.
Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience.
No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.
If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”
Why is this reflection so powerful? During my career in healthcare marketing, I've encountered many situations where having the facts on my side wasn't enough to move someone from a unreasonable position or request. The line that speaks to me the most during those situations is the following:
“Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument. That is my experience. No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding.”
I’ve often found that people's strongest opinions are driven by emotion, not logic or facts, and you have to first dig into what is driving that emotion to really understand the other person's perspective and make progress with them.
Many times, I’ve known that I was “right" with my suggestion or point of fact, but I was still unable to persuade the other person to see it my way.
Over the years, I’ve learned to step back and search for the root cause of what might cause someone to lash out or cling stubbornly to an idea or opinion that is clearly wrong. Taking that approach is much tougher than simply judging the other person and being angry, but it’s more productive in the end.
The next time you are faced with a difficult person acting in a way that you just don’t agree with - tomorrow or any time in the future - remember that you should “never blame the lettuce!” Try understanding the conditions first.
About Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist, revered throughout the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment—the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world.