As my son spoke to me tonight, trembling, with tears running down his cheeks, I knew this was something I needed to take seriously. Today was another day in a long line of days that were tough for him. He’s small and hot headed, and a perfect target for bullies. He told me about a boy that always yells at him, won’t pass him the ball in soccer, and tattles on him to teachers. He said this boy was nice to the “best kids” but not to the others, despite everyone wanting to get in his good graces. Sure, this is elementary school and we’ve all known a kid like that, but it doesn’t make it any easier.
This came on the heels of my own version of adult bullying today. I had a colleague and advisor completely criticize and discredit something I had introduced to him. His opinion was loud, absolute and stated as fact. There was no room in his mind for finding truth wherever it may be found. I found myself gritting my teeth, eyes narrowed, ready for a fight. It didn’t feel good, and it didn’t feel right. I was mad and hurt. I knew both my son and I needed to do some thinking about how to handle those that oppose us, and I remembered something very profound that I learned from a teacher of mine, Steve Anderson, years ago.
He tells of a bookkeeper he worked with that was “difficult”. Any time he presented an idea to her, she found multiple reasons why it wouldn’t work. All of us know someone like this. No matter what we say, they take the opposing point of view. What do we call them – negative.
Steve explains that these people aren’t necessarily negative, they are just wired differently. Everyone sorts things they are presented with in one of two ways. Some people sort information by putting together things that are “similar”, while others put things together that are “different”.
For example, if you share a new idea about a health supplement with a friend, if they are a “similar” sorting type of person, they will think of things that support your idea. “Oh, I was reading about a supplement like that yesterday, or I have some other friends that have been trying those and really like it…”. They are finding similar things to sort your information with.
On the other hand, if your friend is a “different” sorter, she might say, “I’ve tried supplements before and never had good results, or I have a hard time trusting anyone that hasn’t really tested what they are selling.” They are finding differences, or challenges related to your idea.
Switch it up
So what do you do?? You must change your approach. My Grandpa Elder was a “similar” sorter. He was always trying the latest and greatest thing (I remember the grapefruit diet that surfaced now and then in their home), and I think I tend to be a little like that. My son is a “different” or “opposite” sorter, and he readily points out problems with everything I suggest.
The similar sorters are easy – you just have to hold the reigns back a little now and then. The different sorters are much more difficult. Let’s go back to the health supplement example. You approach your “different/opposite” sorter friend with, “I’ve heard about this supplement, but I don’t think it would really work. Especially for you. It would probably be a waste of time looking into it.” Because she is wired to think of opposites, she immediately will take the opposing side and think of reasons it WOULD work. That is simply how she thinks.
At first glance it might sound manipulative, but it’s not. It’s approaching people in the appropriate way for how they are wired to respond. Now, there are few pure similar or different sorters, so pay attention, but if you keep these things in mind you may realize that “negative” person in your life is simply thinking differently than you.
As I write this, I know I should be feeling better, but I’m not completely! It still hurts, opposite sorter or not. So Google here we come! I need some new ideas – and this is what I found…
5 Ways to Deal with Opinionated and Critical People
- Don’t take it personally – Most of the time, people are reacting a certain way because of their beliefs and understandings about life. Most likely, they react this way to everyone, so it’s not you. It’s them.
- Really try to understand – Sometimes people that are critical and offensive may not be understood. They may truly be concerned, but offer their opinion in a tactless way, increasing the misunderstanding. They may be unaware of how they are coming across, and we are paying attention to HOW they are saying things rather than WHAT they are saying. Filter through the words for meaning rather than focusing on the delivery method.
- Recognize the opinion as honest feedback – Wouldn’t you rather someone be blunt and truthful to your face rather than critical behind your back? The honesty is painful, but is also a compliment. They care and really want you to know their opinion. Taking time to really understand their reasoning is important.
- Put the problem in perspective – when we stew over things and replay them in our mind, we often make the problem much bigger than it really is. Focus on why you are feeling uncomfortable with this person and their opinion. Why is it making you mad? When you find that answer, you will feel better about the situation and will give your awareness and put you back in charge of the situation.
- The Golden Rule – Treat them like you would want to be treated. Funny how much easier it is for me to tell my son this than to put it into practice in my own situation. How in the world can I be kind to someone that discredited me in public?? Ahhh that’s why it’s a commandment. I don’t want to do that, but for my growth and betterment, I need to.
I hope this helps in situations you may be struggling with. I know I need to move forward, swallow my pride and listen to the intent, and these tips and tricks will help. Have a great fall week!
Dr. Michelle Jorgensen