Alice in Texas

Not writing here anymore- see top post for details of my new blogs.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

dealing with difficult people

Sharon's comment below on dealing with a certain kind of person critical of homeschooling reminded me of a useful tip I once got from one of those "How to be successful" books you find in thrift/ charity store/ shops. First of all, you have to be able to identify the difference between a person seeking an honest debate and a person trying to force their idea on you. The first kind will be interesting to talk to, one of you will learn something and most importantly neither of you will have an axe to grind, you will both be perfectly happy whether or not you "win" the debate, and aware of this right through it.

The second kind is persistent, repetitive, and makes you feel exasperated, cornered, unable to leave without overstepping your own boundaries of politeness, or sometimes flat-out bullied. If you identify that they are talking at you and not taking your ideas seriously early on, the best thing is to end the interaction. The way to do this is to be clear, firm, friendly and smile broadly. You can't do it just by saying you want the conversation to end, however. You have to communicate two different things effectively, by enacting as well as referring to them:

1) your position is different than theirs,
2) you are entirely comfortable with that fact,

To communicate and enact them you do this:

1) state your difference as clearly and concisely as possible.

Don't state your position, just the difference. Slight inaccuracy due to the restrictions of summarising is not a problem. Don't aim for watertight argument- you're not trying to convince or win a debate, just stating difference. Directly contradicting achieves this perfectly: "No, I don't want to buy cable TV," "Actually homeschooling provides more diversity," "No, children make fewer real friends at school than homeschooling," or whatever. It doesn't matter if you can't back-up your argument flawlessly: the idea here is to disengage from argument.

2) Smile, say nothing more, do not respond to scepticism or further attacks. If your interlocutor continues ranting, occasionally repeat what you said in 1) above. Each time you repeat it, so so more quietly and disinterestedly, until the dynamic of the interaction has wound down to nothing and the other person loses interest in it.

The only thing that can hijack you here is questions. The success book I mentioned didn't say anything about those. However, the ranting person will ask a particular kind of question that is more of a demand for attention and engagement than an inquiry into your ideas. They will often ask things that don't make much sense and puzzle you if you stop to think about them, because their questions are based on false assumptions.

dealing with questions:

1) don't say anything- often they will wait two seconds and then go onto something else anyway,
2) say you don't know, or don't understand the question (and repeat in the style of 2 above until they lose interest)
3) "Hmmm, I'll have to think about that".

But many questions are just disguised statements, so you can just contradict as in 1) above, "What about all the sports she will miss out on?" "No, we do lots of sports," or "we do far more of everything than schools can," or restate your underlying position: "We feel homeschooling is the best choice."

It can be tiresome dealing with these situations, but it is only to be expected, and these days far more people are positive and encouraging than ever before, which usually outweighs the negatives, as Sharon said. Of course, what one would like to say is, "It's none of your business how I choose to bring up my children," or, "While we're setting each other straight here, how dare you wear such a disgusting lime-green hat, Mrs Jones? Don't you realise its ugliness impacts on the spiritual wellbeing of us all?" But, you know. One has to set a good example.

3 Comments:

At 12:47 PM, Blogger Mrs. du Toit said...

As you and Sharon have pointed out, it IS getting better. Your method for dealing with it good, when you wish to pursue it. There are times when (I've found) it's best NOT to pursue it (among strangers).

Having chosen to homeschool a long time ago, and in a region of the country not supportive of "being different," I came up with a different strategy for inquisitive strangers: I'd lie.

The granny at the checkout, "Why are you out of school today? Is it a Holiday?" was no longer told "we homeschool." Instead, a white lie, "No, they go to a private school with a strange schedule." It's technically the truth--homeschools ARE private schools, but it avoided the potential confrontation.

This became especially important when my kids were in earshot. They didn't need to hear other people's negativity about our educational choices.

"What grade are you in?" is probably the most common Granny technique for being friendly to children, and engaging them in conversations. "Make up anything" I'd tell the kids.

As the kids got older and weren't demure and shy little ones, they took to answering people's questions themselves. In that case, it was a win-win. The kids got to state, proudly, their circumstance ("I'm homeschooled so grade is not as easy to define" or "I'm homeschooled. I finished my school work today so we decided to go out for lunch."). The stranger got to meet an articulate, home-educated child and didn't intrude further with their rudeness to state to the child how horrid they thought it might be. I'd just smile and let the kids handle it--better for all concerned.

It IS getting better. The stereotype of homeschoolers living in a cave, waiting for nukes to fall on their tin-foil covered heads, despite the Medias continued attempts to portray homeschoolers that way, is being shattered. When the nice, successful, "normal", family next door has happy, well-spoken, and polite homeschool kids (who play with your kids), it is impossible to maintain the stereotype.

The bottom line, however, is that it is not their business. It's my call. If I answer their questions I'm to blame for their further intrusions.
As you and Sharon have pointed out, it IS getting better. Your method for dealing with it good, when you wish to pursue it. There are times when (I've found) it's best NOT to pursue it.

Having chosen to homeschool a long time ago, and in a region of the country not supportive of "being different," I came up with a different strategy for inquisitive strangers: I'd lie.

The granny at the checkout, "Why are you out of school today? Is it a Holiday?" was no longer told "we homeschool." Instead, a white lie, "No, they go to a private school with a strange schedule." It's technically the truth--homeschools ARE private schools, but it avoided the potential confrontation.

This became especially important when my kids were in earshot. They didn't need to hear other people's negativity about our educational choices.

"What grade are you in?" is probably the most common Granny technique for being friendly to children, and engaging them in conversations. "Make up anything" I'd tell the kids.

As the kids got older and weren't demure and shy little ones, they took to answering people's questions themselves. In that case, it was a win-win. The kids got to state, proudly, their circumstance ("I'm homeschooled so grade is not as easy to define" or "I'm homeschooled. I finished my school work today so we decided to go out for lunch."). The stranger got to meet an articulate, home-educated child and didn't intrude further with their rudeness to state to the child how horrid they thought it might be. I'd just smile and let the kids handle it--better for all concerned.

It IS getting better. The stereotype of homeschoolers living in a cave, waiting for nukes to fall on their tin-foil covered heads, despite the Medias continued attempts to portray homeschoolers that way, is being shattered. When the nice, successful, "normal", family next door has happy, well-spoken, and polite homeschooled kids (who play with your kids), it is impossible to maintain the stereotype.

The bottom line, however, is that it is not their business. It's my call. If I answer their questions I'm to blame for their further intrusions.

 
At 12:49 PM, Blogger Mrs. du Toit said...

Wowie. Sorry about that. Double-double post.

 
At 2:20 PM, Blogger Alice said...

And I can't even edit it for you with this blogger commenting thing... never mind.

You're right, it's not their business. We need to have that at the forefront of our minds whenever confronted. Remembering where the boundaries actually lie is the best inspiration for dealing with difficult people anyway.

 

<< Home