How To Deal With Stupid.

We’ve all been there.

We roll our eyes. Huff. Puff. Mutter under our breath.

Verbally or silently we conclude that someone we have had to deal with is stupid.

Oh the satisfaction of coming to that conclusion!


We end up having to deal with the same issues again. The only thing that changes is the situation.

Annoyance, health issues, strained work relations and stress at home are just some of the negative consequences.

What if, instead, you chose to pause and get curious?

Let me share an anecdote with you to show you how this can work.

I’ve changed the names to maintain privacy.

A colleague of mine from years past, Wendy, asked me for advice to deal with her boss, Claire.  An incident at work had led to an investigation into Wendy’s conduct.

While the investigation was ongoing Wendy also had a performance review.

At the performance review meeting, Claire concluded that Wendy had provided exceptional service, meeting the goals set at the beginning of the year.

They finished the conversation with the understanding that this conclusion would be in the final written performance review.

When Wendy received a copy she was surprised to see mention of the investigation and that it detracted from her overall performance rating. This had not been discussed in her review.  She was angry.

She gathered documentation proving her delivery of excellent service and was going to confront her boss with it.

She asked for my thoughts on this approach.

Sometimes, when people are upset, there is confusion about what they really want. With this in mind I asked, “What do you want from this meeting?”

Wendy responded, “I want my performance review to reflect the conversation we had. I want it acknowledged, in writing, that I have provided exceptional service and met the goals set out for the year. I also want the investigation reference removed. It did not impact my performance.”

This was good. She was very clear on what she wanted from this meeting.

I then asked Wendy to pause and reflect.

If she went in armed with evidence how would her boss react?

In the past Wendy had seen Claire entrench herself in her position when confronted. Wendy was unsure if she would get what she wanted.

I advised Wendy to resist the urge to push her position with Claire. Instead, Wendy needed to find out why Claire had included the investigation when it hadn’t been discussed in the performance review. Having more clarity on why her boss had made such a decision was as important as knowing the result she wanted from the meeting.

I asked Wendy to exercise genuine curiosity that would reflect in her tone and body language.

No anger. No judgment.

It was critical for Wendy to use language that would allow her boss to hear her.

I offered an example of how to frame her question: “When reviewing the document I noticed your comment about the investigation. I was curious about this as we hadn’t discussed it in our meeting. Could you tell me more about why it was included?”

When Wendy used this approach in the meeting it created a space to have a conversation that was not aggressive but exploratory.

If something Claire said upset Wendy, it was important for Wendy to repeat back, in a neutral tone, what was said. It would give Claire and Wendy a chance to make sure they had heard each other.

As her boss reflected on why she chose to include the investigation, something became clear; she had originally thought it important to include but, upon refection, determined no suitable parameters of the review would allow for its inclusion. It was a separate issue. The comments were removed and the meeting ended amicably.

It would have been easy for Wendy to conclude that Claire was stupid and walk into her office with files proving she had provided exemplary service as well as information demonstrating that Claire could not add the investigation to the performance review.

However, by choosing to exercise curiosity Wendy created a non-aggressive space for Claire to reflect and then make a decision. The approach did not make Claire defensive or harm their work relationship.

Concluding that they are stupid and that you are right is easy. The problem with the conclusion is that it provides short-term satisfaction and long-term discomfort – or worse!

Choosing to exercise curiosity with yourself and the person you are in conflict with isn’t easy but the benefits of unlearning what doesn’t work and learning skills that address the issue can save you a lot of grief.

Break the habit of sucking it up or exploding in a fit of rage. Pause and get curious!


N.B. 1.

I expand on the ideas and tips above in my free toolkit. I also share tips on how to develop more clarity and resilience. Click HERE and sign-up.

N.B. 2.

If you would like to build your relationship management skills to improve project implementation; learn how to address power dynamics, conflict and difficult conversations; avoid burn-out and improve your resilience skills click HERE for more info & to sign-up for a free needs assessment.


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