“Know how to listen and you will profit even from those who talk badly.”~Plutarch
“I’m surrounded by idiots!” my clients unfortunately proclaim, as we launch into a coaching session. “Everyone around me makes my job so difficult!”
I know how they’re feeling. I’ve been there myself. Perhaps you have too. That moment when you realize – you know – that most, if not all, of the people you’re dealing with have seemed to sign a pact that they’ll make your work and life as trying as possible. They question everything you say. They argue every idea. They point out why things won’t work, or haven’t worked, or will never ever work. Basically, they just get in your way.
But when you know how to listen – when you can hunker down and hear what they’re meaning but not saying, what they’re saying between the lines, what they really want or need but they don’t know how to share – you are armed with a way around their obstacles or through their challenges. And you sometimes are even able to appease them along the way, and bring them along.
I recently shared with a client – who was complaining about how one specific department seemed to have no other goal than to make his work impossible to do – Stephen Covey’s concept that people just want to be heard. “Seek first to understand,” he tells us. When you make it your primary focus to listen to others, even or especially those idiots who are getting in your way, you’re armed with ways to bring them onto your side and to move ahead.
So next time you’re surrounded by idiots, here are a few tips to getting through – and through to them – more successfully:
- Keep your calm – do your best to not let them get to you, and if that’s not possible, at least to not let them know they got to you
- Listen – as Plutarch suggests, listen with all your might (and with an open mind)
- Get on the same side – one of the best ways to solve a conflict is to get on the same side as your opponent, and then to work as a team to solve it together
- Find the win-win – find what you have in common, how you can share in the prize, a solution that will meet both your needs – they don’t have to lose in order for you to win, and often just that shift in perspective can help
You may be surrounded by idiots, or it may just feel as if you are. Either way, your chances of not losing your cool – or your mind – as well as your chances of achieving your goals, are increased just by remembering that your crazy opponents are people with needs, just like you, and by listening.
How has listening helped you?
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For support for when you’re surrounded by idiots, contact Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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What if they aren’t responsive, meaning that there is no other option than fully winning for them, assuming that letting them win is not an option (because it will for example hurt them in a way)
Thank you for your question. That is tough, and my answer may not give you the ultimate path forward that you’re looking for. If someone is truly unwilling, or unable, to engage with you or respond to you in a way to move things forward, it may be that there is actually nothing you can do. Sometimes we do have to stop banging our head against the wall to make something happen or get through to someone and just do our best to do what we think needs to be done and to be our “best self” while doing it. Perhaps you need to give up trying to convince them and walk away and let it be what it is…at least for now.
Good luck and let us know your thoughts.
What if I don’t like them? I can’t go on with them? But I have to stick with them unfortunately for some reasons. I don’t like the way they think. I try to calm myself, try not to lose the cool, try to listen but they’re so negative.
Thank you for your comment, Akash. Yes, it can be incredibly challenging to deal with a very negative person. When you have no choice but to interact with them at work or in your personal life, you can still set boundaries and “rules of engagement” so that you engage on your terms. Staying calm is a good strategy as well.
What if they say you’re wrong but never explain why? In fact they don’t critically think in general. Anti education and medical advice to the point where it’s hurting others. Ive tried to explain to them and they wont listen. They always have to be right. I would ignore them but I have to see them everyday. And their lack of respect for educating oneself is negative affecting everyone around them. I want to have a serious conversation with them. However, they will not only dismiss my reasoning, but will also take it as a sign of disrespect that I try to say they are wrong. It’s not about who is wrong or right. It’s about doing what’s best but their ego is too fragile.
Thank you for your comment Katherine. The sad truth is that sometimes people don’t listen to us or are closed off to our thoughts – especially if they are caught in extreme beliefs, as perhaps these people are. Sometimes all we can do is keep ourselves away from the conversations and trying to convince, because it’s just not possible. Sometimes there is nothing we can do.
What if they are trying to get you involved in their Idiocy?
Great question! When you’ve done your best to listen and find a way forward, and you’re feeling like you’ve hit a brick wall – you can choose to honor your boundaries, uphold your personal values, and stay above the fray. Then, communicate that clearly and firmly.