Ever been around someone who makes you question your sanity because there’s no working things out? Every attempt to reason with them fails miserably . . . nothing works. Presenting facts doesn’t work. Even staying composed doesn’t work.
Those hair-pulling moments can reduce a person to a pitiful pile of frustration and self-doubt in a flash.
That’s a fairly typical response, according to Dr. Alan Godwin, author of How to Solve Your People Problems. In a seminar I attended, he pointed out that the world is populated by two groups of people—those who can be reasoned with and those who can’t . . . or won’t.
Those who can be reasoned with, he says, possess three psychologically healthy traits. They self-observe, self-monitor and self-correct.
That means they’re willing to take an honest look at themselves. They want to know their flaws and they want to monitor them. They admit to being wrong, and readily take responsibility for their actions and shortcomings. Then they go that next step—they make things right.
Godwin says that when such people see their wrongness, they cringe. Call it a healthy dose of feeling ashamed of oneself. It’s a response rooted in a fully developed conscience. When they violate their own standards of character—how they want to be—they cringe. ( I like that word 🙂 )
The opposite of cringing, he says, is shrugging. Shrugging is an expression of no conscience. In other words, they couldn’t care less.
Godwin states loud and clear: “If personal wrongness doesn’t bother us, we’ll do nothing to correct it.”
So true. In fact, we may deny its existence, gloss it over with elaborate excuses, or simply shrug it off.
It’s clear to me that shruggers don’t care about the quality of the footprint they leave on the landscape of humanity.
So here we are. We find ourselves living among cringers and shruggers—reasonable and unreasonable people. It’s good to know the difference, especially for those who believe they will be understood if they just exert enough effort. Those same people are certain that reasoning will inevitably transform any feud or misunderstanding into a harmonious state of connection, compromise and appreciation.
That’s all true . . . if you’re dealing with a reasonable person. But, according to Godwin, “You can’t reason with unreasonable people.”
It’s also helpful to know that unreasonable people are chronologically older than their developmental age. That is, you may be trying to communicate with a twelve-year-old who’s walking around in a forty-year old body. So your attempts to reason can only go so far. Have realistic expectations.
How to know if you’re in the presence of a reasonable versus an unreasonable person? You’ll know them by their willingness to hear contrary opinions. They welcome feedback and are open to changing how they see and do things.
In contrast, if you try to talk to an unreasonable person, they’re likely to distort the meaning of your words and not allow you to correct any misinterpretation. They hear what they want to hear.
Reasonable people embrace truth. They don’t deny or distort it in order to avoid their own wrongness. That’s not the case with unreasonable people. Being right and winning is all they care about. Enhancing a climate of mutual cooperation, problem-solving and goodwill isn’t even on the radar.
Blaming is a characteristic of unreasonable people. When they argue, Godwin says, “They play the ‘blame game,’ absolving themselves of responsibility and attributing exclusive blame to the other side.”
What to do about these people? Godwin suggests we avoid them when we can and if that’s not possible, establish firm boundaries. This includes guarding our buttons and accepting the fact that our relationship with them will be limited—lacking depth and a level of intimacy that accompanies open and honest sharing between two people.
Godwin sums it up in a nice package:
“Superficial and light is better than bitterness and strife.”
One of my clients decided to do just that with her difficult sister. “There’s no point in trying to reason with her. I might as well save my breath because she’ll twist things to fit her world anyway.”
Needless to say, my client is feeling much freer and more peaceful these days. Her hair-pulling moments are a thing of the past.
If you’re in her shoes, take comfort: you’re not crazy. It’s probably just the company you keep.
(c) Salee Reese 2017