Being difficult and being yourself

Question posed: I’ve gotten feedback at work that I should change to be like everyone else, so I fit in better, but how do I do this without selling out what I like about myself?

Answer:  Not many people want to be the one that others find difficult. How do you release the unique colleague you know is inside, which others are judging as wrong without also seeing as valuable? It’s an internal conflict over how you want to relate to people, which others seem to do easily, and still be your unique self. Here’s conflict management skills in context you can use:

Difficult people are hard to get to know

Often, people substitute assumptions about difficult people for understanding them. If you use conflict management skills, it won’t guarantee others will like you. It will mean they won’t consider you difficult to deal with, and that means they get to know you. From there, they can decide if they like you or not as you are.

It’s up to you what to do with feedback

You have choices:

Ignore it.
Stew about it while changing nothing.
Take a survey of others to find your general reputation.
Shrug it off, can’t please everyone.
Fret over what changes to make (this appears to be your current decision).
Use the feedback as a gift of information you can use.

Maybe the feedback is correct, maybe not. You seem to have decided it’s a gift of helpful information. Then, the conflict is that it seems like selling out what you like about yourself. Maybe, the issue isn’t either be like everyone or be only yourself. How can you both fit in and be unique? Or another question might be: How can you be anything except yourself, even if you fit in?

Happiness is friendship and collegial relationships

Wisdom going back to Greek philosopher, Epicurus, (307 BCE) tells us that having an emotional connection with other people, not money and possessions, gives true happiness. So, it isn’t surprising that negative feedback can cause internal conflict. Normalize the feelings of internal conflict, it’s what most would experience.

Knowing how to have and to be a friend and colleague should be one of the skills we learn as children. Usually, but not always, socializing and interacting with other children teaches us life-long skills for getting along. Some children’s experiences make it difficult for them to have adult connections. And, realistically, everyone can not get along with everyone else. There will be some we’d rather not call a friend. There will be others whose uniqueness makes us want to be their friend.

How to do both

You’ve already started the change with this self-awareness that you’ve been, in one person’s mind, difficult at work. Changing one thing sets off a chain reaction because everything is connected to everything else. Recent research has shown that the more self-awareness you have, the easier you will find it to understand and get along with others.

You can be your unique self and still use conflict management techniques for connecting with others in a satisfying and authentic way. Adding those to your repertoire won’t change your unique personality. However, your new skills could change the nature of your relationships for the better.

The three conflict management skills are:

  1. using questions to move from positions to interests;
  2. understanding conflict management styles so you use one that’s appropriate for the situation; and
  3. engaging in the same conversation as the other (was the discussion about facts, emotions or identity?).

You don’t have to give up your unique self when you become easier to deal with at work. You do open possibilities for relating to colleagues so that work’s a happier, more productive place for you.

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