"Want to know how to keep people from jerking your chain? Don't give your chain to jerks!"
~ Bill Crawford

“Want to know how to keep people from jerking your chain? Don’t give your chain to jerks!” ~ Bill Crawford

How to Keep People From Jerking Your Chain

In my role as a psychologist, I frequently come across people who describe being jerked around or mishandled by others. While I can certainly understand their concern, I also know that the way they are describing the experience may be keeping them stuck in the stress, frustration, and resentment that often accompanies these interactions.

In other words, when we describe ourselves as being mishandled or jerked around, we are also describing the other person as having the power to do this to us… almost as if we have this “handle,” and they are able to grab it and jerk! Given that few of us want to give this power to the “difficult people” that we encounter, I suggest we adopt a more purposeful perspective that puts us back in charge of who we are and how we feel/respond.

First, I suggest we redefine what is happening. For example, the fact is that the difficult person has said something or done something that we don’t like. Notice how that is different than them “jerking us around.” We are stating a fact about how they are being versus how they are able to affect us, and in doing so, we take one step closer to taking control of our lives.

Next, I suggest we ask ourselves more purposeful questions about the person we are dealing with. First, is this someone we trust? In other words, do we truly value the opinion of this person so much that we would send those whom we love to them for wisdom and guidance? If the answer is no, then we can begin to dismiss what they said as untrustworthy, and move on.

A second question that can go nicely with this first one could be, “On a scale of 1 to 10, how important do I want this person to be in my life?” If the answer is “0,” then we can practice dealing with them in a way that we deal with unimportant people in general, i.e., we don’t give them a second thought. On the other hand, when we run what someone said or did to us over and over in our mind, at that moment, we are making them the most important person in our life, and in doing so, give them the power to jerk us around.

Of course, there are people that we don’t necessarily trust but they do impact our lives (dysfunctional bosses, supervisors etc.). In these cases, it will be important for us to influence their opinion of us as much as possible. This is understandably easier said than done, and will certainly require that we access our best interpersonal skills, clarity, confidence, creativity, etc., which will require that we resist feeding the anger, frustration, and resentment that will only throw us off center, and minimize our effectiveness.

Now, what if we are dealing with someone that is close to us, they have been trustworthy in the past and they are important to us (family member, close friend, etc.). In this case, I suggest we determine whether they were trying to make us feel bad? In other words, do we believe they thought, “Watch this, I’m going to make ______ really mad by saying or doing this!!!!!” Chances are that the answer is no. They were probably just reacting out of their own stress or frustration, in which case we can write what they said/did off as a “knee-jerk” reaction versus giving it the power to hurt us.

Of course, having a sense of history could also be helpful in these situations. For example, is this typical of this person? Given that the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior, chances are good that they are going to do this again in the future, and we will want to determine how we want to respond versus react when it happens.

You see, a “reaction” is just us “re-acting,” or acting the way we have in the past, while a “response” comes from the Latin “spondere,” which means to pledge or sponsor. Given this, we could ask ourselves what quantity or characteristic we want to sponsor or bring to this encounter in the future?

All of these questions:

1. Is this a person whose opinion I trust?
2. How important are they really in my life?
3. Was this an intentional act?
4. Is this likely to happen again, and if so, how do I want to respond?

…are what I call “neocortex,” or “Top of the Mind” questions because they engage the clear, confident, creative, and even compassionate part of the brain, and are part of my “Life from the Top of the Mind” philosophy.

If this is something that you feel would be of value to you and/or those in your organization, school, or family, I suggest you contact me, because as long as we keep giving others our “handle,” which means valuing their opinion over ours, making them important, and giving them the power to impact how we feel, we will forever be at the mercy of people coming from the knee-jerk part of the brain.

Or, put another way… “Want to know how to keep people from jerking your chain? Don’t give your chain to jerks!”

~ All the best, Dr. Bill