When most of us decided to come to the Keys we were making a conscious decision to "check out" of the "real world." That doesn't mean we don't want to work hard or be productive, but we want to make sure our lives are full of joy, beauty and fun. As Lily Tomlin once wrote, "The problem with being in the rat race is that at the end of the race, you're still a rat."
If the calm and relaxed life is what we strived for, it can be very frustrating to work (or live) with people who are stressed out, anxious and way too serious. The old adage of "wherever you go, there you are," is entirely accurate. People may have left high-powered, intense jobs to come to the Keys, but that doesn't necessarily mean they change when they get here. There are times we probably wish we could send them back.
The first and most important thing we can do is to give up the attempt and desire to change them. They aren't your responsibility, and trying to make them smile or talk them down out of their tree will probably just wind you up, and if it works, it will only be a temporary fix. We all know we can't make others happy, even if their happiness would make our lives better. That's the bad news.
The good news is that there are things you can do to have a certain level of immunity to it. Their moods and demeanor don't have to impact yours.
Here are a few ideas. Try any or all of them, and do them frequently.
1. The bubble: Therapists often use a vision of a bubble around them when they are dealing with highly emotional or troubled clients. Before the session begins, they enclose themselves in an imaginary bubble in which they can see and hear everything, but nothing can really penetrate. It may sound silly at first, but the vision simply serves as a reminder to yourself that while you don't shut that person out, you are protecting yourself from their negative energy.
2. Concentrate on your own light-heartedness: If nothing else, this uptight person reminds you of what you don't want in your life. They might actually be doing you a favor by pushing you further into self-awareness of what you want. Look back at the last three columns in this series. Practice those ideas and tools and focus every day on being relaxed and joyful.
3. Refrain from judgment: It's easy to label these people as difficult and allow them to become the workplace unpopular kid. Instead, remember that when people are anxious and stressed, it is usually based in some underlying, pervasive fears or frustrations. Instead of focusing on the symptom (e.g., their moodiness, intensity, etc.), understand the possible causes. This will lead to the one thing that frees us from any frustrating relationship: empathy.
4. Address it: Sometimes, your mindset isn't enough - particularly if the person takes their stress out on you directly. If they have a habit of raising their voice, saying hurtful things or stepping over your boundaries, it is important to be clear on your needs. Uptight is one thing; being abusive or unprofessional in any way is another. Past columns have given you tools on how to be assertive and address difficult people. In sum, it is important to: 1) get them alone; 2) explain how their behavior impacts you - with examples; 3) ask for a different behavior. If they refuse or just get more intense, think about using plan B. That involves going over their head, changing your work or living situation, or finding an outside source for mediation or help.
In sum, the best way to deal with people who won't lighten up is to simply be light yourself. To do it not out of spite, but out of your desire to live a happy and smooth life. When you do that truly, and concentrate on yourself, you often find that you inspire others to do the same.
Eliza Levy conducts seminars on conflict resolution and anger management. For more information, contact her at 305-296-5437 or visit http://www.elisalevy.com.