Leaving The Door Ajar

Or why we shouldn’t paint a person into a corner

Five suggestions on how to manage those who are determined to make your life a misery…

What a person sees when you shut the door on them
Photo by Pixabay from Pexels

The subject of today’s post has come about in response to a fellow blogger, who recently had a very unpleasant, and hurtful experience.

When dealing with a critic or difficult person (or situation) it is natural to want to shut them out, or shut them down, respond angrily, cry (which is quite fine to do by the way) or not deal with the issue at all. Sometimes, the situation becomes, on both sides, victory at all costs.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

A common method of dealing with critics or unpleasant people is to either let that person paint themselves into a corner (in the hope they will self destruct), or as a result of feeling disgruntled with them, taking action to force them to that very same point and in turn become the painter of their destiny (as I like to say).

When They Come Out Swinging

When you paint a person who is critical of you into the corner, there is only one way out – and that’s for them to come out swinging (fighting). And when they do, you will be their target. There is nothing worse than being on the receiving end of a bitter campaign. The punches will land here, there and everywhere, and they won’t care…

Any good leader knows this!

Whether you have, or they have, painted themselves into a corner is not the point! However, there is a saving grace. Even the most difficult of critics may respond positively, particularly if you back off from pushing (painting) them into a place they really don’t want to be.

Something to Ponder – Leaving the Door Ajar (and 5 Ways to do this)

To stop a person from coming out swinging, you need to give them an alternative way out. To give them an opportunity to think. Perhaps, to reach out. In other words: leave the door ajar.

Photo by lalesh aldarwish on Pexels.com

Leaving the door ajar is essentially looking for a win win outcome. There are five key interconnecting strategies you can explore to help you achieve such a conclusion including:

Exploring Alternatives

With many confronting situations there is more than one way to achieve an outcome. If there are options available, make the other party aware of what they are. Then, welcome them to go away and explore their options and let them know they have time to embrace an alternative course of action. This approach can be even more effective if you explore the options with a little bit of empathy.

Having A Little Bit of Empathy

The key to empathy includes putting yourself in the recalcitrant’s shoes, and identifying whether they are feeling mad, bad, glad or sad? This includes asking yourself “have they been dragged into a situation reluctantly by others?” Perhaps, you have even been in their situation. Then, if so, ask yourself whether there is a case for being flexible or not.

Investigating whether you can be flexible!

When it is all said and done, there is flexibility regarding most situations, including those that are unpleasant or confronting. Stretching the “rules” slightly means giving the difficult person both the room and the time to breath and think straight.

If you can be flexible, then see what can be done to address the matter and let them know what this is. Remember, though, don’t promise something you cannot do or deliver!!!

However, there are those situations where flexibility may not be possible. In these situations be firm, but fair. In short, you need to listen objectively.

Listening objectively

I realise I live in the Western World, but in my part of it, you are entitled to a fair hearing – which is the corner stone of natural justice. If you are an arbiter or decision maker (I have been both many times) you are expected to weigh up matters objectively and render a decision accordingly. It is essential that you have at least listened to the difficult person objectively and given sound, balanced reasons as to why you cannot tolerate their behaviour any further. Move on.

Sometimes, once the decision is rendered, it is a case of handing out or accepting the olive branch without further “penalty.”

Accepting an olive branch

If the other party contacts you and says they have changed their mind or are willing to withdraw their position on a matter and need your help to do this, then, help them do it. Welcome them even handedly and advise them what their options are 😊

Side Bar – Trouble at the Top During The American Civil War

Abraham Lincoln and the Art of Winning Over His Opponents
Chris Gillespie explains that Lincoln appointed his top rival, William Seward, to Secretary of State. Seward tried to gain control of Lincoln’s cabinet, and after Lincoln outmaneuvered him, Seward ultimately came to recognize Lincoln’s superior leadership and respect him. They became close friends, and Seward set a new bar for effectiveness in the Department of State. Lincoln’s other rival, Edward Bates, was appointed to Attorney General and was crucial in enacting Lincoln’s early war policies. And Lincoln’s third rival, Salmon Chase, despite devising political schemes to supplant Lincoln upon re-election, displayed such financial mastery as the Treasury Secretary that Lincoln overlooked his political meddling.

Finally, I will leave you with this:

When it is all said and done, pushing a person into a corner is destructive behaviour. By looking for an alternative way of dealing with an unpleasant issue, it is not only constructive, but it is also being proactive.

Let My Love Open The Door – Pete Townshend

Let My Love Open The Door is one of my all time favourite songs. It was used as the theme song for the movie Red Dog – the Pilbara Wanderer. If you haven’t seen it, do track it down and have a look. It’s a delightful, mostly, true story, but also a sad story. A number of books and poems have also been written about Red Dog’s life. I even happened to come across Red Dog in the place where I grew up many, many years ago…

25 thoughts on “Leaving The Door Ajar

    1. Thank you for your kind words. Level headed and strong was very much at the forefront of my mind when I wrote the post. It’s not always easy, but as I keep saying to those around me, you are the only one that can make a difference when the chips are down.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Great suggestions Sean and I can see we come from the same place 🙂 Using these techniques keeps you firmly in the driving seat and gives the employees ways out when they’re not enjoying the ride.

    Having those tough conversations was never easy but like you, I always left the door open for employees.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks, Caz. I believe we do come from the same place 😊 Even when I have had the most unpleasant of issues to deal with, the protagonists have thanked me for being firm but fair. I genuinely believe most people appreciate the door being left open.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s almost easy to work with the worst protagonists when you know how – and I noticed how badly other managers ‘managed’ their staff. Although I had many years of HR experience and lots of nurse training, I still believe that I learnt how not to do things by observing others lol.


  2. Excellent ideas on the topic. Many times it is very difficult for someone to change, but with all that effort and empathy you know you showed you care. Sometimes it’s about how others see you respond to that person and they respect your leadership.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you for the inspiring feedback, Tim. Others do need to see how you respond to a negative situation and I have always found that if you can resolve the issue, the level of appreciation is shown in many different ways.


  3. These all sound like a great strategies to avoid escalating conflict! I’m a big fan of looking for Option C in many situations, and swerving into new collaboration rather than a winner/loser scenario is an option well worth considering. Let’s face it: no one wins in a workplace fight. It takes time and energy away from everyone it touches or involves.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. So here’s the thing… you are right in everything you mentioned, but it is very hard (or nearly impossible) to be objective and empathetic when someone has hurt you. The petty queen in me says that it is so much better to just shut that door and throw away the key… but the grown up with me says I should I agree with you and just try it out. In some instances, it really does make more sense to move away from anyone who ‘dulls your shine’ 😅

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, that is very true when someone has hurt you (even sacrificed you). It takes extreme will power. In the political world I have been in (and get dragged back into occasionally), keeping the door ajar is essential (ignore the very bad examples around the world out there at the moment, but they have back channels, you know).

      And yes, if it is a situation where you can move away from a bad influence or someone who rains on your parade, hopefully, without burning a bridge, that’s appropriate too.

      Liked by 1 person

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