Dealing With Unreasonable People-Part II

by Grace Judson

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In Part One of “dealing with unreasonable people,” I presented a new perspective on understanding why someone might be behaving the way they are. In case you missed Part One, you can find it here. The link opens in a new tab so you can keep your place on this page.

Now you need to know how to use what you learned to transform debate and conflict into understanding and a positive shift forward. But first, two simple truths about human interaction.

Truth #1: We all, even the most intuitive, sensitive, and empathetic of us, filter everything through our own perception. There’s no way out of that. We simply cannot ever completely understand anyone else’s experience. It’s not ours, even when it appears to be a very similar situation.

Truth #2: There’s a fundamental, existential loneliness that arises from truth No. 1. This loneliness drives the basic human desire to be heard, understood, and felt. We deeply want that sense of connection that arises when we feel as if someone has stepped outside their own perspectives—and cares enough to take the time and make the effort to do so—and really feels what’s going on for us.

But when we’re in the middle of dealing with someone who seems unreasonable or difficult, our natural reaction is to put up the barricades and defend our position. Unfortunately, from that place it’s simply not possible to create the sense of connection that’s crucial to easing the discomfort and transforming the conflict. By asking the question I outlined in the first article—“why would a reasonable person behave in that way?”—we take the first step.

The next step is to validate your ideas and insights into what they might be experiencing. We do that by asking curious questions.

  • “It seems to me that you might be feeling annoyed about …”
  • “I’m wondering if you could be feeling frustrated because …”
  • “I’m guessing you may be concerned about …”

Two important things to notice here.

First, do not ever TELL someone how they feel. Notice the use of “it seems to me,” “I’m wondering,” “I’m guessing,” along with “might be,” “could be,” and “may be.” If you’ve ever had someone tell you how you feel (or how you should feel), you know exactly why this is a huge mistake: they’ll just get even more upset and defensive.

Second, choose gentle words. “Annoyed” or “frustrated” instead of “angry”; “concerned” instead of “afraid.”

They may actually be angry and afraid. But for many people, those are vulnerable emotional states. Your goal here is to help them feel safer, not more exposed and unsafe!

At this point, you’ll get one of two responses.

“That’s right!” or “No, not really.”

Either you got it right, and you’ve helped them feel seen, acknowledged, and perhaps even begun creating that spark of feeling felt… or you missed the mark. The good news is that even if you missed the mark, it’s OK. They’ll almost certainly tell you how they do feel—and you’ve gained brownie points by having made the effort.

And we’re not done yet with this process! Part 3 will come next month—stay tuned!


Grace Judson is an expert on communication, conflict transformation, and negotiation. She works with individuals, teams, and leaders to help them have the clean, clear, honest conversations that improve relationships and build careers. She can be reached on her website, www.gracejudson.com, where you can sign up for her newsletter and receive weekly tips on communication, conflict, and connection. And be sure to check out her program “Managing your Inner Critic: how to stop the rotten-tomato fight in your head” at www.gracejudson.com/managing-your-inner-critic.

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