- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
If you're like me, you never thought that maintaining relationships would be hard work. As a kid it never occurred to me to "work" on any of my relationships. They just happened. And if for any reason they didn't, I jumped ship. No fuss, no bother.
But somewhere along the line I entered the fray of mature relationships, and things got dicey. I learned that some people were more difficult, if not impossible, to get along with. I learned, for example, that trusted friends could betray me. Authority figures I admired could snub me. A colleague's constant criticism could hurt me. And even family members with important information could leave me out of the loop. But I also learned that, unless I wanted to be a hermit, I couldn't abandon every relationship that hit a snag.
The temptation to run from difficult relationships is still there. When impossible people get me down, I sometimes wish I were Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. Living alone on a desert island away from difficult people would be paradise. But Defoe's other writings snap me back to reality. "Though I don't like the crew," he wrote, "I won't sink the ship. In fact, in time of storm I'll do my best to save it. You see, we are all in this craft and must sink or swim together."
That's the rub with difficult people—we really do sink or swim together.
We encounter impossible people in our families, in our neighborhoods, in our churches, and in our workplace. When employees were asked "What upsets you most about where you work?" their number one complaint was about fellow workers. It turns out that job satisfaction depends more on our relationships than our salaries. Relationships make the difference between the job we love and the job we loathe.1
But the importance of good relationships, of course, isn't limited to work settings. A pioneering band of researchers has studied the age-old mystery of what makes people happy, in a general sense, and their answer is not what you might expect. What comes up consistently at the top of the charts is not success, good looks, or any of those enviable assets. The clear winner is relationships. Close ones.2
Which brings me back to my point: If relationships make us so happy, why do so many of our relationships make life so difficult? And more importantly, what can we do to keep our cool, stand our ground, and reach positive solutions when we find ourselves in high-maintenance relationships, face-to-face with "impossible" people?
This book is my answer to that question.
People Who Beef, Bite, and Bellyache
About forty years ago, the U.S. Navy asked William Schutz to construct an instrument that would help them assemble compatible submarine crews, groups of men who could live together, elbow to elbow, for extended periods of time with minimum conflict among themselves. Schutz determined, not surprisingly, that compatible behavior was determined primarily by "natural fit." In other words, people who get along well with each other do so without much effort. Their relationship doesn't require much work; in fact, you could say it is low maintenance.
I hope that you have a few low-maintenance relationships, people with whom you naturally fit. Sure, you may hit temporary turbulence together from time to time, but it's periodic, and the relationship stays on course. If you are like most people, however, you also have some relationships that aren't so easy. These are the impossible people who beef, bite, and bellyache. They give you the cold shoulder, spread rumors, seethe with jealousy, play the victim, or trample your feelings. In some cases, they may be people you simply can't stand. To sum it up, these relationships require a lot of effort. They are your high-maintenance relationships.
When my wife, Leslie, and I first moved to Seattle some years ago, we lived in a city apartment with underground parking. One of our neighbors was a jet-setting businessperson who had a parking space next to ours. For the longest time, however, I didn't know what he drove—it was under wraps. Every time John parked his car, he sheathed it in a custom cover to protect the car's finish. One morning, however, as I pulled in to my space, I discovered what John was hiding. He was standing beside his automobile, with the hood up.
"Wow!" I said, ignoring his apparent plight as I rolled down my window and pulled into my space. "No wonder you take such good care of that thing," I exclaimed. It was a silver Jaguar XJ-something that was as shiny as a brand-new quarter.
"Yeah, well, I'm getting rid of it," John said with disgust.
"It's too finicky, and it takes all my time just keeping it up and running."
The same is true of high-maintenance relationships. Like an automobile that needs constant attention, they drain our energy, eat up our time, and create a stream of unnecessary hassles. Impossible people make life harder than it has to be. And high-maintenance relationships, like John's Jag, sometimes seem like more trouble than they're worth.
But before you think this is a book about writing off impossible people, think again. After combing libraries, listening to clients, surveying dozens of people, and practicing proven principles in my own life, I have concluded that it is possible to make most high-maintenance relationships work much better. In many cases you can make your high-maintenance relationships better than you could even imagine. As Scripture says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone" (Rom. 12:18). The effort you exert to improve a difficult relationship is almost always rewarded with new vitality and personal strength. Other dividends include fewer worries, a clearer mind, a more positive outlook, a stronger sense of effectiveness, and better physical health. The bottom line is that improving your relationships makes your life easier.
If your life is free from clingy friends, aggressive employees, hypocritical colleagues, controlling relatives, indecisive coworkers, insensitive bosses, or any other descriptions that fall under "difficult people," read no further. Consider yourself blessed, and extremely rare. But if you deal with difficult people regularly, read on.
Let's start by examining your own situation for a moment. Just how much are the tensions in your relationships affecting you? What side effects are created by your high-maintenance relationships? Here's a test you can take to find out if any of your relationships are affecting your own personal and emotional health.
The High-Maintenance Self-Test
By answering these questions you can assess whether or not you are in a high-maintenance relationship. Answer each item carefully and honestly.
Y N Do you feel especially anxious when a particular person has called and left a message for you to return the call?
Y N Have you recently been dealing with a relationship that drains you of enthusiasm and energy?
Y N Do you sometimes dread having to see or talk to a particular person at work or in a social situation?
Y N Do you have a relationship in which you give more than you get in return?
Y N Do you find yourself second-guessing your own performance as a result of an interaction with this person?
Y N Do you become more self-critical in the presence of this person?
Y N Is your creativity blocked, or is your clarity of mind hampered somewhat by the lingering discomfort of having to deal with a difficult person?
Y N Do you try to calm yourself after being with this person by eating more, biting your nails, or engaging in some other unhealthy habit?
Y N Do you ever have imaginary conversations with this person or mental arguments in which you defend yourself or try to explain your side of a conflict?
Y N Have you become more susceptible to colds, stomach problems, or muscle tension since having to deal with this difficult person?
Y N Do you feel resentful that this person seems to treat other people better than she or he treats you?
Y N Do you find yourself wondering why this person singles you out for criticism but rarely acknowledges things you do well?
Y N Have you thought about quitting your job as a result of having to interact with this difficult person?
Y N Have you noticed that you are more irritable or impatient with people you care about because of leftover frustrations from your interaction with this difficult person?
Y N Are you feeling discouraged that this person has continued to drain you of energy despite your efforts to improve the relationship?
Scoring: Total the number of Ys you circled. If you circled ten or more Ys, you are certainly in a high-maintenance relationship.
Identifying Your Impossible People
Everybody is somebody's impossible person some of the time. But rarely is somebody everyone's impossible person all of the time. Think about that. Oh, we all can think of one or two people who seem to complicate everyone's existence, but those people are rare.
That's why a good rule of thumb is to remember that the difficulty you experience with most impossible people is in your relationship, not in the person. After all, someone you like very much might get along just fine with someone you cannot bear to be with. My wife and I have a mutual friend who, in my opinion, is blindly insensitive to others. Not according to Leslie, however. She gets along just fine with him. Impossibility, like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder.
When I decided to write this book, I immediately knew what kinds of people pushed my buttons and "deserved" to have chapters written about them (mostly because they reminded me of ugly traits I possessed!). Knowing, however, that I did not have a corner on impossible people, I surveyed more than one hundred people on the kinds of relationships they felt are the most difficult. I presented them with a list of two dozen high-maintenance relationships and asked them to rank their top five.
Here is what I found: The most common complaints about difficult relationships center on people who are critical and complaining ("The Critic"). Next in line are people who are filled with self-pity and play the victim ("The Martyr"). Coming in at number three are people who are automatically negative and pessimistic ("The Wet Blanket"). In the number four slot are people who are blindly insensitive to others ("The Steamroller"). And rounding out the top five most common complaints about difficult people are those who spread rumors and leak secrets ("The Gossip").
Of the two dozen high-maintenance relationships on my list, however, more than these five stood out.3 People repeatedly noted fifteen different types of high-maintenance relationships. And while the labels I give these fifteen relationships serve as shorthand here, they are not to be mistaken for caricatures. Each is a real-life relationship, portrayed as a human being, not a cartoon.
With this in mind, which of the following types sound like someone you know? From the following brief descriptions, rank your top five high-maintenance relationships (begin by placing a 1 next to the person who gives you the most grief—the person you would most like to know how to handle).
___ The Critic—constantly complains and gives unwanted advice
___ The Martyr—forever the victim and wracked with self-pity
___ The Wet Blanket—pessimistic and automatically negative
___ The Steamroller—blindly insensitive to others
___ The Gossip—spreads rumors and leaks secrets
___ The Control Freak—unable to let go and let be
___ The Backstabber—irrepressibly two-faced
___ The Cold Shoulder—disengages and avoids contact
___ The Green-Eyed Monster—seethes with envy
___ The Volcano—builds steam and is ready to erupt
___ The Sponge—constantly in need but gives nothing back
___ The Competitor—keeps track of tit for tat
___ The Workhorse—always pushes and is never satisfied
___ The Flirt—imparts innuendoes and borders on harassment
___ The Chameleon—eager to please and avoids conflict
Each of these fifteen high-maintenance relationships is the focus of a chapter in this book. You will probably want to read first about the ones you have marked before exploring others. Feel free. Each of these fifteen chapters is designed to be read independently, as a stand-alone resource that pinpoints strategies for a specific difficult person.
Before moving to these chapters, however, I want to make one point clear. This is not a book about changing others as much as it is a book about changing yourself. It is a book about learning skills for building better relationships. I often tell students in my college classes that relationships are a school for character, allowing the chance to study, in great detail and over time, temperaments very different from our own. The learning curve of relationships involves, to no small extent, filling out a picture of the other's limitations and making peace with the results.
If this is not a book about how to change difficult people, you might be wondering, then what is it? It is a book about growing as people and maintaining healthy relationships, even with people who seem to be impossible.
Reading This Book for All It's Worth
You don't have to let difficult personalities take control of your life. And you don't have to feel that your only option is a hasty exit. This book will show you a different way. Each of the fifteen chapters about specific high-maintenance relationships has a similar format. After some introductory remarks in each chapter, I outline the defining traits of the particular high-maintenance person. This is followed by a brief quiz that will help you identify whether you are in a relationship with this kind of person.
Next, I explain the dynamics underlying this person's behavior. We all want to know why someone behaves in an irritating way. What triggers the annoying behavior of the Backstabber, the Chameleon, the Gossip, or the Volcano? I take a look at how a person's background, demeanor, and motivations can explain his or her behavior.
The chapter then turns to practical ways of coping with the person. This subsection, by the way, almost always begins with a challenge to find some of the high-maintenance characteristics in yourself. I start with this point because you will be more patient with others once you see some of their traits in you. You will also have more empathy and, in turn, more grace to "do to others what you would have them do to you."
Each chapter then closes with a cross-reference to other high-maintenance relationships discussed in the book. Since no person is a pure prototype of any specific profile, this can serve as a simple suggestion to checking out other possible helpful avenues of coping with this high-maintenance person.
Posted August 10, 2004
This book has been a tremendous help to me. With one work relationship in particular, it paved the way to new understandings and helped me create a sturdy foundation for successful communication. Since then, I've used this book a number of times in counseling situations. I am grateful to Les Parrott for his insights and positive influence.
1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted February 13, 2001
Frankly speaking, I think that the author has failed to illustrate many of his points clearly; usually, many of his examples or illustrations are irrelevant to the points that he has intended to explain. What makes me feel more uncomfortable is that, the author seems to use many of his examples as a channel to 'ventilate' his past hurt feelings in interpersonal relationships. And his interpretation of his past hurting experiences sometimes appears to me to be quite subjective. Furthermore, of the 15 types of people he has depicted, many are indeed so similar that it's quite difficult for me to tell the difference between them.
0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.