Compassion and Dealing with Difficult People

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Tatiana Simonian
Vice President at Nielsen Entertainment

October 07, 2014

I recently had an island vacation. The kind of vacation where one does not answer work emails or “sort of” work on decks while pretending to unplug. No, it was an honest to goodness, chill out vacation. My stress left the building and once I returned to Los Angeles, I was cool as a cucumber.

Being significantly de-stressed, much like meditating regularly, gives you a bit of pause that you normally don’t have. Life becomes more observation versus an endless stream of stimuli. (Spoiler alert: We are all overstimulated.)

Example: As I was getting breakfast at a small mom and pop restaurant, I noticed a businesswoman walk in, look at the menu, curse loudly at the lack of something she wanted and then walk out. Hmm, the menu didn’t attack her, it was just the menu. Being “significantly de-stressed”, not in a rush and also a bit more aware of my surroundings, I observed how odd this behavior actually was. I told this story to a mentor who responded, “Hmm. Yes, that is weird. But then you can have compassion for her and also, you were judging her. Often there is some part of ourselves we see in the behavior we judge others for.” Drats.

Over the next week, that conversation really stirred me as did the idea of utilizing radical compassion when dealing with difficult people. We all have people in our professional lives who can be a bit difficult. Some are outwardly brash and rude, others may seem cheerful but tend to say “no” to every request versus looking for solution. Navigating difficult personalities both at work – and at home – is a necessity if one is to remain sane in this life.

The biggest issues I see in interpersonal business relationships are the following 1. We take things personally 2. Focusing on negativity versus solution and 3. Inability to utilize radical compassion with people who we disagree with. These are issues I not only see in others but also myself. I mean, what good is doling out advice if you have no experience with the matter – right?

Compassion disarms our ego. It reminds us that we’re all a part of one team and aiming for a greater good when our ego wants to “be right at all costs”. When I was at a particular start up, I often saw egos flare up as bright as the sun. It’s very easy when someone is *this* close to a lot of money to allow personal interest to eclipse collective good. Remember, successful companies are the result of great teams not a few outstanding individual contributors.

Being a team player does not mean that you will always be agreed with or that you will always get your way, but it does mean that you can step back and see what is good for the group. This is not to say that one should not have goals, but rather, that we must temper our goals to insure greed does not eclipse ambition. All work is a service and all service is best delivered with a smile and compassion.

Difficult personalities and interactions will always be a part of business. Instead of being surprised when complexity rears its ugly head yet again, resolve to be compassionate. View the person across the table or on the other end of the computer as human versus a transaction. Have compassion for their struggle as you seek to advance your goals and you will be far more successful – and peaceful.