How to Deal with Other People
People, am I right??
How should you deal with them? If everyone knew the answer to that for all situations, I would likely be out of a job. Luckily for me as a therapist, the answer to that question depends on the given circumstances of your situation: Who are you dealing with? What’s their deal? How are you wanting to deal with them in this situation?
While the answers to these specifics are more in the purview of individual therapy, there are some common themes that emerge in our efforts to manage our relationships with other people. Understanding this framework for how to approach your choices in dealing with others can then be beneficial by clarifying – bringing your priorities into focus.
Three Competing Priorities in Interpersonal Situations
An idea I really appreciate from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is that we can often have competing priorities in interpersonal situations, and that this is where a lot of the emotional strain we feel in these situations comes from. Here are three different types of priorities we might have when dealing with other people:
This refers to obtaining your goals or getting your needs met in a particular situation. The key question with this type of effectiveness is:
What specific result or change do I want from this interaction?
This might be what you want the other person to do, stop doing, agree to, commit to, or understand in the situation. Being clear about what it is that we want out of a situation can make it easier to practice assertiveness.
This refers to maintaining or improving your relationships with the other person or people in the interaction. The key question with this type of effectiveness is:
How do you want the other person or people to feel about you after the interaction is over?
The answer to this question can often cause us to change our approach, getting us to edit out hostility and judgment in our comments rather than giving the other person your unvarnished opinion.
This refers to maintaining or improving your respect for yourself, and respecting your own values and beliefs in the interaction. The key question with this type of effectiveness is:
How do you want to feel about yourself after the interaction is over?
When we stand up for our values and beliefs, we affirm our own respect for ourselves through our actions.
What to Prioritize?
Given these three competing priorities in interpersonal situations, which is most important to choose? While the answer to this will depend upon the specifics of the situation, it is clear that always emphasizing the same priorities over and over tends to not work well for people:
When we focus on our objectives with others all of the time, neglecting relationship effectiveness, we can end up upsetting them and harming our relationship in the long-term. For example, yelling at a partner can have the immediate reinforcing effect of having them understand something that you care about, but with the consequence of eroding a sense of trust and emotional safety in the relationship.
Similarly, when we focus all of our attention on relationship effectiveness, capitulating to the other person’s requests to help them like us more, we can fail to meet our objectives and needs and harm our own view of ourselves. This can lead to resentments toward the other person as well as ourselves over time.
Finally, when we focus exclusively on self-respect effectiveness in every interaction, this does not leave much space to get our objectives met or improve our relationships. For example, someone may defend their position no matter what – no matter whatever other evidence is presented – as a way to protect their self-respect above all else.
When these three types of priorities conflict with one another, it is up to us to determine where the conflicts arise and how to proceed from there. DBT offers a helpful framework for how to think about different demands on our decision-making. In the process of changing our approach to ourselves and other people, it can of course be helpful to have the assistance of an experienced therapist as a guide. If you live in Seattle or the greater Washington area, and are interested in working on this via telehealth, please feel free to contact me for a free 15-minute phone consultation today or learn more about my approach on my website.