Part 4 of a 3 part series on Being Prickly
The trouble with prickly people is that they are - well - prickly. As you can see by this picture it can literally be painful to be around them. So it's a natural reaction to want to limit your contact.
- Make sure it's not YOU who's prickly! (Read the other parts of this series and respond accordingly.) Do what you can to eliminate the baggage you bring.
- Be considerate of your own presence in the world to keep from stumbling onto others' land minds. We can be tough with people who are prickly, not taking any of their crap, or we can be 'tough love' when it comes to this issue. We all have stuff. Being respectful of others' sensitivities is a kind gesture that makes the world a nicer place to live. (Of course for this to work - it has to be about of generosity and not fear. See #6)
- Don't be too quick to judge. Giving someone time to make a second, or even a third, opinion before you write them off, often contradicts your initial reactions. Some people, like those TV shows that initially test poorly only to go on to become classics, just need to warm up and find their pace.
Be supportive in the moment. Don't take it too personally and be empathetic in trying to help soothe this person. Watch your own reactivity and don't use others' baggage to justify dumping your own. But also keep good boundaries and kindly stand your ground.
Have a heart-to-heart. This is a tougher task but if done with the right intentions it is an investment in caring about this person. Start with empathy as in - who wants to hear that they have issues? But add that you would rather talk to them than feel like backing away from the relationship (or firing them) because it's too painful to be around so many thorns.
Of course this talk will look very different depending on your relationship, style, skill and even gender. Maybe you use humor well, maybe you use your own screw-ups to let them know that it's ok not to be perfect, maybe you are a bit rougher in your honestly but the intention of helping still gets through. Just don't forget the message that you are bringing this up because you DO care. And feel free to admit your own prickliness right off the bat if it's true. This isn't a contest where only one of you may need to change. You may both need to work on our stuff and coming clean may ease the way for a real conversation.
Timing is also important. (Always tricky because if things are going well - why ruin it and if things are already stressful it may only make things worse.) But consider this: Sometimes a challenge in the moment works to reset the dynamic. But this is usually for little thorns like grouchiness or momentarily stress. If the pain is chronic and more serious, bringing up the subject when they are NOT being reactive gives you the best potential for being heard. Make sure you balance this challenge with all the positive aspects that you appreciate. Use kindness and empathy and ask if they are open to hearing how it feels when they... Then ask them to consider making some changes. If appropriate, you may want to suggest that they do some deeper work on this. But reminding yourself that you can't make anyone change but that you would rather put this out there for your own self respect can help.
Taking the time and energy to be supportive of others may not help your relationship and you might not be thanked for it. But for your own sake, you can know that taking the time to support someone in getting past their prickliness is a gift.
As for this Prickly Series I hope you gained some valuable insights and ideas for both your own prickliness and for making sense of the porcupines around you.
Helping yourself and supporting others in growing is better for us all because ultimately we are all attached. Which means that we are all responsible for how pleasant we are to be around. And while you are hopefully trying to be less hard on others - don't forget to go easy on yourself. We can all be prickly. (Just ask my husband, my kids, or any of my friends who are good enough to put up with me and remind me to pay attention as I continue to work on keeping my quills in lock-down.)
Good luck and take care, Annie
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Annie Zirkel, LPC is a Relationship Consultant based in Ann Arbor, Mi and is glad that this series have finally come together. You can contact her at email@example.com