When I first started working in a scientific manufacturing environment I took offence when people did not salute me when I passed them on the pathway between buildings; I got hurt when my manager told me I was too challenging or when he told me that I always interrupted him and would not let him finish a sentence; I got frustrated in meetings which were slow and detailed; I dreaded one-on-one meetings as there would inevitably be a lot of silence with which I became uncomfortable. I began to think I had joined the wrong company especially when I heard people saying that I was ‘a breath of fresh air’ or I ‘smiled too much’.
The relief was huge when I discovered that there was really nothing wrong with me, it was my ‘difficult’ person – my opposite: I am open, they are closed; where I rely on intuition and feelings to make a decision, they rely on analysis and facts; where I like to express, they like to listen and ponder; where I am fast-moving, fast-thinking; they were slow moving, and slow thinking etc… etc…. And my ‘difficult’ people were everywhere – the company was full of them, most of them being engineers and chemists who were quiet and thoughtful risk-averse, with enormous attention to detail, procedure, quality and safety (all essential qualities, may I add, pertinent to the manufacture of life-saving drugs!).
I tried to ‘handle’ my ‘difficult’ people. I planned carefully all meetings and conversations in advance to avoid silence, encouraging the conversation to move along at a pace with which I could handle. I stopped saying hello to people on pathways and tried to smile less often. I took control of my hand gestures and modified my exuberance. My manager started to ask me if I was alright, waiting for me to interrupt with an idea or suggestion, which stopped coming.
When I came across the wonderful words of wisdom of Don Miguel Ruiz, called the ‘Four Agreements’, I took the freedom to look to my strengths and appreciate the strengths of my ‘difficult’ person who became not so ‘difficult’ but ‘different’ to me. I started to learn from my ‘difficult’ person how to listen with patience; how to appreciate thought before action; how to take my time over detail and analysis to produce higher quality work. I took, in particular, Agreement No. 3 to heart, and my own heart came back to me in my work and in my life.
Agreement 1: Be impeccable with your word
Agreement 2: Don’t take anything personally
Agreement 3: Don’t make assumptions
Agreement 4: Always do your best
Make a commitment to yourself to look to your strengths and appreciate the strengths of others different to yourself; adopt the 4 agreements for yourself, you won’t regret it, I promise.
Anne Marie Crowley, based in Cork, is a free-lance Coach and Trainer in the field of behavioural change for individuals and business.
Anne Marie Crowley is the founder of Crowley Personal and Business Change.