It’s fairly common to wish that all the customers, employees, bosses and humans we encounter would be patient and easy to please. But how much better can we become at managing relationships if everyone is perpetually pleased?
In all probability, we’re not gleaning useful relationship lessons through interactions with customers who don’t mind repeatedly being put on hold because they kind of enjoy “hold music.”
In general, some of the most profitable lessons come on the heels of conflict with people who are difficult to please. Consider the conclusions many of us might have drawn during the turbulent middle school years:
- “No one likes me.”
- “I need to wear more deodorant.” (Okay, 1 and 2 may be connected)
- “I’ve got to show people who seem to hate me my real value.”
Living and learning through these types of difficult experiences can make the high school and college years, and more or less the rest of your life, much easier to navigate. It also allows us to become influential business leaders and compassionate service providers.
Additionally, someone might stay at a job they feel like quitting every 10 minutes because they’ve been there for 5 years. Also, when and if they find a new job, it’s more likely to be suited to who they are.
Relationships teach us who we really are. The way we navigate them—especially the difficult ones—reveals to us more about ourselves than anything else we do.
Regrettably, it sometimes takes a series of tough relationships before we recognize the extent of what we’ve learned. As a wise (and slightly intoxicated) man I met on an airplane once divulged, “It was my fourth wife who told me that I was more knowledgeable about myself than any man she ever knew.”
Now, in business relationships, one would hope that we could implement the lessons we’ve learned a bit more quickly than this man seemed to. But doing so requires a willingness to set aside the other person’s prickly behavior long enough to examine how we could have done better in the situation. In short, if it’s always someone else’s fault, we can’t learn anything about ourselves.
It is consistently true that validating people and taking responsibility gives you maximum influence. However, what we learn about ourselves is what ultimately gives us the most sustainable advantage.
A 2016 study conducted at the University of Minho in Portugal showed that people tend to stay in difficult relationships because they have a “sunk cost.” They’ve spent time and money getting comfortable with each other, dating, dining, and growing the relationship, weathering conflicts and perhaps even purchasing property together. This authenticates my personal experience that intimate relationships are often difficult, expensive and fattening. Results of the study suggest that people who’ve poured into a challenging partnership tend to stick with it. But, tangentially, the research showed that people seem to learn more about themselves in difficult relationships than they do in the relationships they’ve rated as the most successful.
We might observe a few things in light of these findings. Though the “love” you showed to a difficult person resulted in you receiving the opposite emotion, you most likely got something back from the “unhappy hater” that has more value than his or her opinion of you. You learned what you can do differently to get a better result. If you have that as your goal as you enter tough conversations with testy people, your expectations and theirs are more likely to be met. Not only can that can make you a better leader or business developer, but apparently, it also proves you are relatively easy to date!
It seems that difficult people make us better at relationships. So embrace the “haters” and grow your personal influence. You may want to thank that difficult customer or send a nice gift to an ex-spouse—these are the people who’ve helped you become an insightful powerhouse.
Garrison W. Wynn is an author, consultant and keynote motivational speaker. He is the author of the books The Real Truth About Success: What the Top 1% Do Differently, Why They Won’t Tell You, and How You Can Do It Anyway!, and The Cowbell Principle.