TWP S03 E04 Difficult People at work Blog header image

One of the things a lot of teachers tell me is a challenge for them in their personal and workplace wellbeing is having to work with a difficult person. It might be a colleague, a parent of one of the students you teach, or one of the leadership team at your school. If you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or burnt out, your ability to respond rather than react will be even more limited. 

So what can you do about it? In this episode, I share a personal story as well as some concepts from author Harriet Lerner ( about the way interpersonal relationships are like dances made up of predictable patterns of steps. As frustrating as it is, all you can control is your next step in the dance.

“There is nothing wrong with wanting to change another person. The problem is that it usually doesn’t work.” ~ Harriet Lerner in The Dance of Anger 

At the start of this episode I also make a few announcements and reminders, including about the free webinar I’m running on April 5th 2018 at 6pm AEST called ‘Preventing Burnout: The Missing Link’. You can sign up at

This episode is brought to you by Daniela Falecki’s Teacher Wellbeing Cards. These 52 card give you simple daily reminders to help better support your wellbeing. You can use them in staff meetings to build positive conversations, or have them in your desk as little pieces of advice to help you through the day. Find these cards and Daniela’s other resources at

Listen via the Whooshkaa player embedded below, or if you’re an Apple user, on iTunes

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Quotes mentioned in this episode:

Quotes from The Dance of Anger by Harriet Lerner:

  • “The problem occurs when we get stuck in a pattern of ineffective fighting, complaining and blaming that only preserves the status quo.”
  • “Learning to observe and change our part in relationship patterns goes hand in hand with an increase sense of personal responsibility in every relationship that we are in. By “Responsibility,’ I do not mean self-blame or the labelling of ourselves as the “cause” of the problem. Rather, I speak here of “response-ability” that is the ability to observe ourselves and others in interaction and to respond to a familiar situation in a new and different way. We cannot make another person change his or her steps to an old dance, but if we change our own steps, the dance can no longer continue in the same predictable pattern. 
  • Each of us belongs to larger groups or systems that have some investment in our staying exactly the same as we are now. If we begin to change our old patterns of silence or vagueness or ineffective fighting and blaming, we will inevitably meet with a strong resistance or countermove.”
  • “There are few things more anxiety arousing than shifting to a higher level of self-assertion and separateness…and maintaining this position despite the counter moves of the other person.”
  • “Fighting and blaming is sometimes a way to both protest and to protect the status quo when we are not quite ready to make a move in one direction or another.”
  • “There is nothing wrong with wanting to change someone else. The problem is that is usually doesn’t work.”

Quotes from The Dance of Connection by Harriet Lerner:

  • “When anxiety is high enough and lasts long enough, even the most resourceful adult can act badly…When you observe any system under chronic stress, you’ll see the extremes. The parents are rigid and authoritarian, or the family operates like a blob of protoplasm without clear leadership and boundaries. The lines of communication get shut down.”
  • “It’s abundantly clear that we can’t control other people’s reactions. But the choice to not change ourselves is a surefire way to keep things in the same place or move the relationship from bad to worse.”

Links mentioned in this episode:

  • Find Harriet Lerner and her books The Dance of Anger and The Dance of Connection here
  • Find Rob Bell and his podcast The Robcast here
  • Email me and tell me what you think of the word ‘self-care’!
  • Be awesome like Kirsty and become a supporter of the Teacher Wellbeing Podcast on Patreon here
  • Help me with my book research by booking a time to be interviewed here
  • To see if coaching can help you, book a discovery call here
  • Sign up to the ‘Preventing Burnout: Missing Link’ webinar here
  • Sign up to the newsletter here
  • Follow me on Facebook
  • Follow me on Instagram

Questions, comments, episode ideas and to volunteer to be a guest on the podcast, email me: ellen [at] selfcareforteachers [dot] com [dot] au

Remember: you are a person first and a teacher second! Be well!

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