What Is It About Henry or Mary?
By Bill Cottringer

“Defensiveness is usually someone silently screaming that they need you to value and respect them in disguise. When you look for deeper meanings behind someone’s pain you can then begin to heal not only yourself, but others.” ~Shannon L. Alder

Sooner or later in work, life or relationships, we all experience a handful of people who we just can’t seem to get along with no matter how much effort we put into trying to improve the relationship. The first couple of painful experiences with this strange phenomenon make it hard to pinpoint just what isn’t right with folks like Henry or Mary and we end up throwing our hands in the air in desperation.

However, eventually the symptoms the other person displays paint a clearer picture of what is wrong and why it is a situation that virtually resists fixing. Here is how Henry or Mary behaves to get under your skin and turn you away from being your best self:

• Obsessing about the details of a situation to get their desired outcome at the expense of the other person and everyone else losing patience.

• Disagreeing about everything, like the moon not being a full one, when it is just one day away from the calendar date of that monthly event.

• Doing everything to create a defensive climate of communication, with dishonest manipulation and strategizing, and insinuating things like over-certainty, over-control, superiority, neutrality and critical judgement.

• Being a generally insecure, unhappy person, without much genuine confidence, a sense of humor about life, or the crucial ability to avoid taking the situation or themselves so seriously.

• Engaging in addictive, passive-aggressive, bullying-like behavior in order to stay in control of the relationship and situation.

It could be that the main purpose of people like Henry or Mary is just to serve as a warning for the rest of us as to how not to be. One approach to dealing with a Henry or Mary type person, is to realize their toxicity is irreparable and merely avoid them to avoid draining you of your own peace, happiness and well-being.

Another more positive way to deal with these obsessing, disagreeable, defensive and unhappy people involves a different mental approach that may not come natural. And, depending upon how entrenched the other person is with the personality and character they have chosen, it doesn’t always work.

What we are talking about here is protectively compartmentalizing these difficult people and their behavior, and then responding with intentional support to minimize their and your defensiveness. This changes the one-way communication to two-way, which is usually the best way to improve the relationship. But this requires you being ways you may not feel like being—intentionally conveying more acceptance, empathy, equality, tentativeness and being freer with not continuing the futile attempts to control the situation.

If this fails to work, then at least you can look yourself in the mirror and not be disappointed you didn’t try your best to resolve problems in the annoying relationship. Then you are more likely to avoid going past the point of no return in the relationship and be more confident that it is time to stop fishing and cut bait. From there you can be the person you want to be with others who will respond to you more appropriately.

“At best, people are open to scrutinizing themselves and considering their blind spots; at worst, they become defensive and angry.” ~Sheryl Sandberg.

Author's Bio: 

William Cottringer, Ph.D. is Executive Vice-President for Employee Relations for Puget Sound Security Patrol, Inc. in Bellevue, WA and Adjunct Professor in Criminal Justice at Northwest University. He has helped private and public organizations improve the quality of their work environments and performance for over 50 years and is author of several business and self-development books, including, “You Can Have Your Cheese & Eat It Too” (Executive Excellence), “The Bow-Wow Secrets” (Wisdom Tree), “Do What Matters Most” and “P” Point Management” (Atlantic Book Publishers), “Reality Repair” (Global Vision Press), and “Reality Repair Rx” (Authorsden). He can be contacted at bcottringer@pssp.net or 425-454-50111