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How to Manage Badly-Behaved People, Sweetly.

My back doorstep was concrete, with a rusty tap and a wild hose that always tanged and tripped us. My Dutch WWOOFers and I repurposed a flowerpot, and the new hose was soon trained to be coiled back snugly after each use.

People can be like that too.

Some people can manage and contain our bad behaviour, even when we can't even manage ourselves. They hug us, in words or actions. Then we lay down our weapons. We love them for it.

Here is a story.

It was at my North Melbourne Permaculture house. My wonderful Japanese WWOOFer (live-in volunteer helper) had cooked me dinner, and was trying to discuss the next day's work plan. I made a few ineffective attempts to tell him I don't like to talk business when enjoying my dinner. He had never ignored me before. Then I lost my temper. 'Hey! I told you, no talking business at dinnertime'.

He could have gone all submissive, I was the boss, after all. He could have fought back. Instead, he called my name, and made an enquiry.


'Yes?' 'If I was your customer, Would you talk to me all loud like that?'

'Um, no. I wouldn't'.

'Good. So you can control your temper. Please control your temper with me too'.

What a ninja. What a man.

It gets better.

'You are stressed' he said, 'so how about we enjoy dinner silently'.

He understood where my bad behaviour came from, and decided someone needed to be boss, and I wasn't up to it.

And now for the finale:

We ate quietly. He finished his food. He then sat peacefully, keeping me company till my plate was empty too.

It was the silence of support, having somebody on my side. Even though I'd been a naughty girl.

Here is a re-cap of what he did, for when someone close to you gets feisty:

He took control.

Just like toddlers, adults who get angry are out of control, and grateful for calm containment, of someone they know is on their side.

He used an apt metaphor.

I thought I couldn't help being angry, but he found the exception, the time with important customers, and suggested I make it into a rule.

Fight for the relationship, nobody wins quarrels

The original quarrel had become a non-issue. It was the tone of the relationship that needed to be dealt with, immediately. There are very few second chances to teach people how to treat you.

In the years since then, Ive re-used this pattern a few times myself, on people who were feeling unheard, and trying to frighten me. It saves relationships, lets me keep people in my life, enjoying and supporting each other.

Like a martial artist, practice imaginary conversations like this, so they are ready to go when you need them.

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