I was very impressed by the self-knowledge and openness displayed by a reader who, after reading my post 7 tips for getting along with your difficult relatives over Thanksgiving, sent me an email to say, “I think I might be the difficult relative over Christmas, or might become so.” She didn’t want to be difficult, and she was trying to figure out how to change.
Most difficult people, however, probably don’t realize quite how difficult others find them to be. They have their own – perhaps quite reasonable – explanations for the things they say and do, and they don’t acknowledge how they’re affecting other people.
In his excellent book The No A****** Rule (I’m omitting the title not from prudery but from fear of spam-blockers), and also on his blog, Work Matters, Bob Sutton has a quiz to help people recognize if they are a******* — I was inspired to adapt that material for this quiz.
As you answer these questions, be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t make excuses for yourself or other people; just try to answer accurately. These questions apply to family members gathering for a holiday, or to co-workers, or to any group of people who are trying to get along with each other.
–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they do a lot of grumbling? Do they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? Do they seem reluctant to accept your generosity? For example, you offered to host Thanksgiving dinner, but no one appreciated it.
–When you join a group of people, does the mood often shift? Does a group tend to break apart after you join it?
–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?
–Do you find it hard to get your calls and emails returned?
–Are you often puzzled when people dramatically over-react to little mistakes, oversights, or casual remarks you make? You bring up some cute anecdote from years ago, and everyone acts upset.
–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!”
–Do you think it important to express your true feelings and views authentically, even if that means upsetting other people?
–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer objective, helpful criticism or advice?
–Do you often find out that something you’ve done or said has caused an argument between two other people? For example, your son tells you that he and your daughter-in-law have been arguing about the lovely plans you’ve made for the holiday.
–Do you find that even when you’re trying to be helpful by explaining something or providing information, people don’t want to seem to listen to you?
–Do you feel annoyed because people tend to refuse to acknowledge your greater experience or knowledge in an area, and instead, ignore your suggestions?
–Do people tend to change the conversation when you try to explain a major insight that has led you to make a major lifestyle change?
–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?
–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?
–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?
–Do you think it’s useful to point out people’s mistakes, areas of incompetence, or previous track records of failure?
–Is it fairly common for one person to tell you that he or she will speak to a third person, so that you don’t have to? In other words, do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking?
A “yes” may be a red flag that you’re a source of unhappiness for others.
Another thing I respected about the person who wrote to me was that she was going to spend the holidays with her family, because she knew it was very important to her mother. She might be a difficult person, but she’s trying to make someone else happy by showing up, even though she doesn’t want to, and that’s admirable.
I did a fun interview about happiness with BlissNotes.
Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.