Photo by Mitchell Hollander on Unsplash

Notes to myself: A**holes appear in our lives for a good reason. Learn from them.

From time to time I have a feeling I am surrounded by people who are really annoying or maybe I should say “upsetting”. Such term covers all different types of personalities, including these arrogant and bossy, impulsive with fragile egos, unqualified and unexperienced, inflexible and lazy, or just simply and utterly stupid. I must admit, using any those descriptions is not something I should ever do, nor any of them are true. My brain tries to find shortcuts and judge the world based on a limited set of information, on the first impressions, on assumptions, and it mostly happens in stressful moments. By all means, it’s not an excuse to continue doing it, but it’s effortless and convenient to judge a person after sparse interactions and assume I know everything, and especially why they are behaving like assholes. Now, a random thought… What if it is not them? What if it’s me?

I’m smarter than this. I know that! I shouldn’t do it! And by the way, where the fuck is my empathy? There is always more to the story, and if I spend a bit more time digging through it, I will learn something new and exciting.

So what is the lesson?

Someone very smart told me recently “These people are there for a reason. It is your job to understand their purpose in your life and the lesson they’re bringing. You can run away, resentful and upset, or you can learn and make another step in becoming a better person.”

Well, that’s not what I wanted to hear, but it stuck in my head for a couple of weeks. It comes back every time I face someone on my path, whom I consider “difficult”. If I’m upset by their behaviour or words, I’m too quick to judge and keen to just stick a label, that only means I need to slow down and think. What is the lesson, what I’m missing here?

I need to face the challenge. Running away won’t help me, and these people will come back in a different body only because I didn’t understand what they are trying to teach me in the first place.

I’ve recognised (at least most of the times) when I get into the state of snap judgements. I can consciously stop, focus and try to understand why that happened and come up with a plan of how to change it. I have to be the one who will make the first step, despite the fact it will surely upset me again. I am a “doer”, the one who tries to resolve the conflict, to clean the air, to understand another person’s position and struggles. Create an opportunity for honesty and constructive discussion where I can share my concerns and listen to theirs. Being vulnerable is not an easy thing, and that’s what scares me the most in such moments.

A real-life example

A couple years ago I had in my team a software engineer who was very talented but far away from perfect. Sebastian (not his real name) was always very vocal on meetings, keen to speak first but that didn’t mean his ideas were good. One thing he was really good at — he complained a lot about everything and everybody.

Sebastian wasn’t keen to follow agreed (by the team) coding standards, and often reminded us that’s not how he codes. Occasionally, he found a supporter of his ideas, and that meant unnecessary chaos in the team, followed by extra meetings. He couldn’t be trusted to work on significant projects alone and allowing it, meant things will be done his way, and team’s opinion will be rarely taken into account.

Back then, I was simply annoyed by his behaviour, but I didn’t have time to take care of it properly — ask, talk, understand, see how I can help and most importantly — learn what I’m missing. Guess what… I’m currently facing a similar challenge in my team. It sounds like I have a lesson to learn!

Notes to myself

  • Listen to understand not to reply.
    It’s hard to resits that quick answer that is so keen to get out of your head, to keep the conversation rolling, but very often that’s not productive. Sometimes people need to be listened to, that’s all.
  • Don’t judge, bring empathy instead.
    I don’t have all the answers, nor are they. There is always more to what I see on the surface. Try to understand a person’s position and struggles. And I know, it will sometimes it will take much longer than I expect. That’s OK.
  • Don’t assume & don’t guess.
    Things go wrong because I try to match people’s behaviours to the patterns I know. Every person is different, every situation is different.
  • Don’t wait for the magic to happen.
    If there is a problem, be the first one to resolve it. There is nothing worse than a boiling conflict based on assumptions and poor communication.
  • Ask questions…

Highly accomplished and results-oriented professional with background in leadership, software engineering, automotive, photography and design.