Nearly three months ago I launched myself into a new adventure. I took a temporary job for 6 months in a hotel in the Swiss alps. I had been dreaming of living in nature, so I immediately took this opportunity. After nearly 8 years of working for the same agency in Amsterdam, I was ready for a change. I had been warned beforehand that some of the colleagues were difficult, but don’t we we all have to deal with difficult people once in a while?
Once I arrived in Switzerland I started to realize that my situation in the Netherlands was completely different. Since I was working for an agency I didn’t get to see the same people every time I worked. Apart from that I also worked irregularly and was often on holidays. On top of that I had to deal with people with my own cultural background.
Now I am working with a fixed team of which everyone is working full time. Furthermore, many of them work in the hotel between 10-40 years. And even though few of them are Swiss, many have adopted the Swiss culture, which is compared to the Dutch culture quite traditional. The modern idea of cultivating fun at work didn’t really make its way to Switzerland yet…
So, there I was. A Dutch girl in a Swiss traditional hotel with some colleagues who indeed turned out to be difficult to deal with. Like most of the difficulties I encounter in my life, I decided to make a spiritual practice out of the situation I was in. To be honest, I am still in the middle of the process, but I greatly enjoy dealing with people in the way I will describe in this post to you.
First of all, I started watching people mindfully. How do they behave in certain situations? How do they interact with each other? What do they reveal about themselves? I try to really just observe and not judge about their behavior. Watching people with a curious rather than judgmental eye will reveal a lot more about them then you’d expect. Instead of finding their flaws you will get to know their true selves who are often times a lot nicer and easier to deal with.
While I observe the other, I also closely observe myself. How do I react to the other? What do I think about the other? How does this influence our relationship? How do I feel when the other is near to me? Of course, I also try to refrain from any self-judgment, which would prevent me from seeing my own true self. I also try to not make stories around my observations, whether positive or negative, but to really just observe feelings, reactions and thoughts. These mindful observations are the basis for the next two steps, which I will explain in the next sections.
Unsurprisingly, we need compassion in order to deal with difficult people. Compassion helps us seeing that others struggle just like us and eventually also just want to be appreciated and loved. Knowing this and constantly keeping this in the back of your mind is very important.
What I learned from my observations, is that people mostly act in a negative way out of fear and insecurity. This is mostly covered under a mask of arrogance which makes it difficult to see at first. But when you observe them mindfully and listen closely to what they have to say, you will hear their negative self talk and various fears. Once you understand what underlying issues people have, it will make it easier for you to be compassionate towards them. I noticed, for example, that the most critical colleagues are the most insecure. So, instead of feeling offended by their criticism, I would feel their need to criticize me in order to enhance their own level of self esteem. I understand that their criticism doesn’t necessarily have to do anything with me.
We all have these insecurities and these fears, and no one should be judged for that. Of course, it doesn’t mean we have to accept unkind or even abusive behaviour from others. But it means we can kindly tell someone how we want to be treated without creating further judgments about this person. It is even important to stand up for yourself and show the other your boundaries. Not in order to make them feel ashamed of their behaviour, but as a sign of respect, because I do see their potential to treat me well and I want them to learn how to tap from their own loving source. Non violent communication often forces people to reflect on themselves and helps them improve their own communication and behaviour.
As we all know, it takes two to tango. So, where is my roll in the interaction I’m having with others? In order to really solve your issues with others you thoroughly need to understand yourself. I often mirror my behaviour to the people I am dealing with. When have I acted in a similar way? Why does this behaviour touch me so much? What does my reaction towards the other say about myself? From every interaction we can learn valuable lessons as long as we dare to look into ourselves as well.
In the beginning introspection sounded scary to me. I was a bit afraid of encountering too many unwanted parts of myself which might contribute to further self-loathing which I was already struggling with for too long. But contrary to my belief I realized that this journey only created more compassion towards myself. First of all, I could feel more compassion towards myself, because I had cultivated compassion towards others as well. Secondly, I noticed being self-compassionate was much easier once I really understood myself.
I was surprised as to how much the self-reflection combined with the mindfulness revealed about myself. I realized, for example, that criticism only offended me when I believed it myself too. Only when people hit an open wound, would it touch and hurt me. This also helped me realizing which parts of myself I still need to work on. Criticism only works when we criticize ourselves. And it’s not someone else’s duty to stop criticizing us, but we need to stop criticizing ourselves.
Something else I noticed is that everything I judge someone else for is something I do myself (or would like to do, but I’m afraid of doing) in some way or another. And it’s often something I judge myself for as well. Once I judged people less for specific behaviour, it became so much easier to stop judging myself for the same negative traits. And even more important: I start witnessing these traits less and less in myself. It’s miraculous how the universe works and the only way to find this out is by by trying it yourself.
Your ego will probably constantly try to warn you, telling you that something is simply wrong with those people and not judging their behaviour won’t stop them from refraining from it. It will also make you believe you have the right to judge over them, because they are just horrible people. Bit did judgement actually ever bring you anywhere? Did you ever notice any real, long-lasting relief from judging about someone?
If all of this doesn’t help…
If you just cannot stand the other person and it seems impossible to not judge the person, then just ask yourself this little question: Do I really want to spend my energy on this person? Judging and disliking someone automatically creates negative emotions which rob your energy. That’s a given which you can’t change. So, eventually you only hurt yourself. Next time someone annoys you, be aware that it’s your decision whether to spoil your own well being or not.
Compassion and understanding are the right choice for all people involved, also for yourself. As for me, I get along with most people by now. I even get along great with some of the people I had difficulties with in the beginning. The real “hard” cases have decided not to talk at all anymore with me which is better for me. These people are well known for yelling at people and denigrating them in front of everyone else. They may not talk to me, but they also don’t yell at me and leave me in peace.
And most of all, my relationship with myself has changed greatly. I have become a lot more self-compassionate and can deal a lot better with criticism. Even when I catch myself still judging about people, it’s way easier to mindfully observe my thoughts and lead them back to compassion and self reflection. Instead of being annoyed by these “difficult” people, I feel gratitude for them now, because they have only reminded me of finding happiness inside myself rather than within others. I have once again felt the power of my self-efficacy and feel empowered to further create my own reality.