With lockdown beginning to draw (hopefully) towards a close and things starting to return to the new normal, is it just me or does everyone seem a bit frayed around the edges? It feels like tempers have shortened and that news of conflict and discourse are on the rise wherever I look. The “We are all in it together” spirit may be being replaced by the “I don’t like difficult people” brigade.
Why do we find people difficult? Is there a group out there who wake up every morning with the sole intention of finding a Scottish legal practitioner and making their life as challenging as possible, or is there something else at play? The older I get, the more I realise that there is no such thing as “difficult” people, only different ones, and the better we can understand these differences and the effects that they have on them and us, the less “difficult” they will seem.
So why are people different, and why do so many challenges arise in our interactions? I think there are four main reasons:
Culture. Our own firms have a way of doing things. It may be clearly voiced, or just a set of understandings that we all have, but it exists. They are our way, not the only way. When others have a different culture, challenges can arise.
Language. Probably best summed up as: “I know what I say but not what you hear.” So many misunderstandings arise because of poor use or choice of language. Have you really explained the issue in terms that the other party can fully understand?
Processes. Similar to culture in that we all have systems that we use. Problems happen, though, when there is an imbalance between someone’s expectations and realisation of that system. If I just say “push 1 for…”, doesn’t your blood begin to boil! So have you really managed expectations of your own processes?
Emotions. People do not act their best when they are under stress. The natural reaction to it is either fight or flight, and we will evidence this often as either aggression or avoidance when we deal with them.
Each of these areas is worthy of an article in itself. For the moment, though, just being aware that people are different and that there are reasons for it is a start. As important is the realisation that you can’t change them: that is their job. What you can do, however, is to deal with things differently yourself.
A good start is simply that change of mindset from “difficult” to “different” when dealing with anyone who might be causing you stress. It is as simple as substituting one word for the other! You know they aren’t doing it deliberately; they are just caught up in one of the issues above. It’s not personal. Likewise, take a moment and just breathe if you begin to feel “frayed”. Why? Well, too much stress isn’t good for any of us (and solicitors have more than their fair share). It is, though, the body’s natural reaction to challenging situations (our fight or flight reflex). To turn it off, just a minute of relaxed breathing will help dissipate that stress.
It can be frustrating for all of us when others are not acting at their best. What we can do, though, is look after our own health and wellbeing and be as understanding as possible of their differences.
Stephen Vallance works with HM Connect, the referral and support network operated by Harper Macleod
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