I often write about how your personal brand can help you in your career as a way of opening up opportunities, letting others know what you stand for and building your reputation. However, your personal brand can also be a useful tool when it comes to dealing with difficult people or conversations in all walks of life.
It’s perfectly normal to have that occasional person in your life that just rubs you the wrong way, and possibly vice versa. Sometimes we can avoid them or keep our contact with them to a polite minimum. With others, however, it’s impossible to do this, especially when it comes to family members or colleagues. Challenging work relationships are a common cause of stress, whether that’s with a boss or co-worker. A difficult family member can be hard to get away from, especially if it’s a holiday or special occasion, with all the expectations those entail.
One simple question
One of the key questions when it comes to personal branding is “what do I want to be known for ?”. In a work context, these can be things like leadership, adaptability, creativity, boldness, or being known for a unique skill set. We can apply the same principles to our relationships as well.
Whether dealing with a person who elicits an automatic trigger response or someone you usually get along with who can irritate you after spending too much time together, it can be helpful to bring your personal brand to the forefront. Defaulting to one simple question, “Who do I want to be in the face of a difficult dynamic?”, can serve as a much-needed compass when things get challenging.
However, this can only truly work if you are able to step back before the situation explodes. This involves being aware of the signals that the situation is turning stressful. It could be a feeling in your stomach or tightness in your chest, an overall feeling of tension in your body or perhaps a more physical manifestation such as increased heart rate. When your body starts to react in this way, it’s most likely producing adrenaline which is a sign that you are being triggered.
The trick is to be able to notice you are being triggered, ground yourself a bit, and then come back to your personal brand, using it as a cue to pause and consider our question. This is what’s called a choice point. But first, it’s important to do a little grounding before being able to make a decision and act at the choice point.
Once it’s clear that you are being triggered, it’s at this point that you step back, breathe and perhaps even practice a bit of mindfulness. Pause and move into your senses as a way of anchoring yourself in your surroundings. Really notice what you can see, hear, touch, feel, etc. This will help to get you out of your head and into the moment. Sometimes something as obvious as taking a few deep diaphragmatic breaths will help to anchor you and slow things down. Or you may need a break to take some time to calm down and regain your composure.
This is easier said than done in a heated situation so do be aware that grounding yourself takes some practice. Sometimes you will notice your pulse racing and yet carry on anyway. Sometimes, you may step aside but fail to calm down. Needless to say, individuals who have difficulty with anger will find this exercise much more challenging. Taking a look at our own emotional obstacles and working on them independently can be an invaluable step here.
Visualize your personal brand at its best
Once you have a bit more grounding in the situation, acting at the choice point involves stepping back and noticing yourself in the situation. How would the ideal version of you respond? What would you see yourself doing physically? For example, would this version of you remain calm, maintain good posture, express open body language? What would your voice sound like? How would your eye contact be? Personal presentation is a big part of your personal brand and defaulting to these traits can help to align ourselves with who we want to be in that difficult moment. What personality traits, strengths or values can you bring into the moment? If things like humour, compassion or light-heartedness are an important part of your personal brand, how can you demonstrate these attributes in the moment, even if only a tiny bit?
Stepping back and evaluating
It’s often helpful to reflect on why we are being triggered in the first place. There’s a potential lesson here in values, as what may be happening is that something in this dynamic is not aligning with your values, or even actively challenging them and this is knocking you off balance. Personal values essentially represent what we want to stand for in life. Some of us can articulate them better than others, but we all have them. Recognising other people’s values can help us appreciate our own values even more. Also, accepting that it’s okay to have different values or beliefs from someone else can make things easier, if only by lowering our expectations! Remember you cannot control the other person’s thoughts, words and actions. Only your own.
Also watch that there aren’t any of your own personal “rigid rules” being violated in the situation. These usually have a “should” lurking behind them, and sound like “they should know” or “do” something. See if you can lighten these demands by replacing them with a preference (“it would be nice if they did x y z”) or, if it works, a “could” (“they could have done it this way, but unfortunately didn’t”). Sometimes this technique (from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) can help turn the volume down on these thoughts, resulting in more of a (manangeable) feeling of disappointment or frustration rather than unhealthy anger or rage. Such rigid rules or beliefs can sometimes create “static” when broadcasting our personal brands, and recognising our own obstacles is an invaluable part of being able to effectively communicate our brands.
It’s also be important to assess the need for boundaries in the relationship. Is this typically someone who helps your personal brand shine, or do they drain it? Having clear boundaries can often prevent drama or a conflict from unfolding in the first place. This involves knowing and respecting yourself and not allowing people to emotionally drain you.
In short, yes, there are difficult people out there. At the more extreme end, we find narcissists, sociopaths, radicals and cut throat characters in every walk of life. Sometimes we can influence a person by sharing alternative beliefs, values or a different position, and this can be a truly rewarding experience. However, when this isn’t possible, focusing on changing others can drain and frustrate us. When we accept that it’s almost impossible to change them and what they do, it’s easier to shine the light back onto what we can control: ourselves.