“How to Work and Get Along With Really Stupid People”

Please don’t be offended by the title of this article! We don’t want to insult anyone, but for successful conflict management, we need to point out that there can be great differences between the way you think, present your ideas and intentions, and consider yourself…and the way that others feel, think, emote, or respond…to you.

It is easy to label people with whom you disagree as “stupid” or impaired in some way. This makes us all feel secure in our own ways of looking at things. It is an easy way to self-validate, and a convenient way to justify disregarding the opinions of others. Sometimes, and sadly, this leads us to eventually dismiss others as simply not worth our attention.

Although most educated people, and much of the body of research on this topic, would tend to indicate that our brains all work the same way, there are factors (neuroscience considerations, cultural differences, totality of experiences, environmental peer pressures, etc.) that lead each of us in different directions and to disagreements, sometimes to the point of unpleasantness. We see this increasingly today in the media as we watch representatives from varying political or social perspectives abuse each other in public, not considering how they (and we) could have possibly approached the person in a more agreeable manner. 

This article presumes that none of us are “stupid.” Yes, we are different, but it IS possible – and desirable – to deal with difficult people without going to war. Laurie Ruettimann (https://www.tlnt.com/how-to-work-and-get-along-with-really-stupid-people/) offers some alternative approaches and actions that we might want to consider – to give ourselves cause for pause – before we start to look upon our tormentors as “stupid” and treat them accordingly:

  1. Smile, pause, and breathe: This simple compound action tends to sap the immediate response of your interlocutor. Your lack of a quick confrontational reaction might drop the level of tension.
  2. Begin with praise: Few of us are immune to kind words, especially if we are complimented on something positive we have done, or contributed to.
  3. Speak as slowly as acceptable at the moment, and use fewer words: Let’s face it, if you’re dealing with someone who has limited capacity to process your thoughts (for whatever reason), don’t make them mull over too many verbal inputs from you! Keep it short, concise, and to the point.
  4. End your inputs with definitive statements: Keep your tone even, and inflect your voice downward. Make your statements clear, and NOT open to interpretation. Don’t invite follow-up questions with your demeanor or your words.
  5. Be as non-controversial as possible: If necessary, be boring.
  6. Don’t gossip: Gossiping or indulging in irrelevant comment simply invites more questions. Remember, you don’t really want to be speaking with this person in the first case, so don’t give them anything else to talk about.
  7. Look busy: Have something in your hand, shuffle a pile of papers, consult your phone. Better still, state that you have to “get back to work” – apologize, and blame your boss.
  8. Feel their pain: Give a knowing nod and look of acknowledgement, make a simple, sympathetic comment or two, but then revert back to point 7 above. A deep, tactical sigh might also help.
  9. “It is what it is”: Say it with sympathy, of course, and be sincere. But sometimes this simple statement can close off a conversation.
  10. Force your interlocutor to speak in bullet points: Ask for an opinion, and break your request into, for instance, three parts. “I need to hear three points…” Break them down carefully. Speak slowly with a notepad in your hand. Then walk away to your computer in order to “record” your interlocutor’s comments.
  11. Be sympathetic: Not everyone can operate at 100% all the time, and sometimes there are factors weighing upon us. Sometimes, what appears to be disagreeability is simply stress, exhaustion, depression, or another distractor manifesting itself. No need to be nasty.
  12. Be considerate: Someone who is disagreeable at the moment may still be contributing in some way.
  13. Be kind: Remember, be as kind as you can because sometimes the problem is…you! J You need to be open to this possibility.

These points are not exhaustive, but could serve as a starting point for constructing tactics to deal with unpleasant people in the future. At the very least they are preferable to direct conflict, which rarely ends well.

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