Delighting in dealing with difficult people

By Steve Wickham

You sense it straight away, booking an appointment over the phone.

The person on the other end is efficient if not a little curt. With every second it seems there is a heightening urgency in their voice. You feel as if you’re being intentionally problematic for them, even though you’re diligently polite.

Then, out rolls the statement that confirms it really is all your fault: “Well, we really aren’t getting anywhere here, are we?” It’s like they’re saying, “You are a very difficult person to help!”

You could be forgiven for thinking: “Okay, you’re a customer service officer and you just told me it’s my fault. I thought there was a rule against that, even if it is occasionally the case that, at least in this situation, I, the customer, am wrong!”

It’s like the time you’re genuinely lost for words, and all that slips out is a purposefully bewildered “wow!”

But I’ve found a better way of dealing with these situations. It’s foolproof if only you can play the role.

The role requires the humility that can stay in the role of being wrong; of being the problem; of understanding just how frustrating the experience must be for them; of standing in their shoes.

What a blessing it is to be able to sit in the role of being wrong and not to be bothered by it.

Somehow it affords the relationship peace. We can overlook their rudeness, because, let’s face it, you may never speak to this person ever again. It isn’t our purpose to school them in manners, because, quite frankly, they would resist any overtures of advice we might give. The only way they will be schooled is through an other-worldly technique we learn from the Gospel of Jesus – outlined in chapter 12 of the book of Romans.

There is nothing new under the sun. This will always work if only we have the poise of a humble heart to deploy it. It requires a sincere heart that isn’t bothered in being wronged, for it’s in being wronged wrongly that God actually acquits us. Nothing sticks when we refuse to fight.

This is the way the rest of the chat worked: having worked out a date and time that did actually work for me, I was extra cheerful that the date and time was decided. Then I simply said, “Thank you for bearing with me; thank you for your patience.”

Was she patient? No, of course she wasn’t. Did it matter that she was impatient? Not really. I could bear it. What does she now think having heard me say to her, “Thank you for your patience”? She might think, “Damn, straight!” or she might think, “How did he just respond to me so nicely even after I told him off?” She may think something entirely different, but grace has made space for her to reflect on my behaviour.

What I’ve found is this. Having a humble and friendly and peaceful attitude is not hard. It’s a decision, and, get this, it protects my heart. And when my heart is protected, theirs is protected too. I do no harm to them. Their harm is stopped in its tracks when I take no offence.

It’s only when you enter a situation prepared to be seen as wrong or weak that you offer that situation the strength of peace.

There is nothing quite like being in an interaction where another person’s behaviour doesn’t impact our own.

By Steve Wickham