Dealing with Difficult People: Create Self Belief

If you are faced with a situation where you need to work people who do not have any belief in themselves, it is important for you to show that belief in them. Believing the best in people usually brings the best out of people. As Mark Twain once said, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”

When LouAnne Johnson got out of High School, she discovered she didn’t much care for college. She lasted forty five days before dropping out and enlisting in the US Navy. There she flourished. She served eight years and along the way she earned a degree in psychology. Then she decided to join the US Marines, completed officer candidate school and served as a second lieutenant. But nine years into her military career, Johnson did some soul searching and decided to leave the service.

For a while she worked at the New York Times in sales, where she earned a good salary. But she didn’t find it rewarding enough. She had been reading about kids graduating from school who couldn’t read, couldn’t write and didn’t have the basic literacy skills. She thought it was criminal. She moved to the West Coast, took a job as an executive assistant at Xerox and returned to college to earn her master’s degree. Her desire was to become a teacher. She decided she would rather make much less money and do something that was really important. When Johnson completed her degree, she took a position as an intern at Parkmont High School in Belmont, California, a town south of San Francisco.

“What they didn’t say was that this veteran teacher had been driven off by the kids” recalls Johnson. “That first day they were just wild. They acted like I wasn’t there.” She came back the next day with great resolve. She continued, “I told them I was too young to retire and too mean to quit.”

She quickly developed strategies for connecting with the students. “I tried to use humor rather than threats,” explained Johnson. “Sometimes I would get on my knees and say: ‘Please don’t make me beg. It’s so unattractive.’ You can’t be a tough guy when you’re smiling at the teacher.”

But more than anything else, her deep belief in her students won them over. A practice she developed for the first day of class- something she called her “card trick”- is typical of the kinds of things she did. She passed out index cards for students to supply name, address, phone number, and personal information. While they completed the cards, she walked the room with her roll sheet, glancing at their cards to see their names, which she secretly memorized. As each teenager finished the information, she picked up each card and individually thanked each student. When she had all of the cards, she announced that the students were about to have their first test. The grumbling began, but she let them know that the test wasn’t for them- it was for her. If she could name each student, she would win. If she missed even one name, every student would get an automatic A on the first test. After she named every student, many of the kids were impressed. And she told them “I know your names because you are important people to me. When I look at you, I see you. I like you. And I care about you. That’s why I am here.”

Johnson’s attitude wasn’t restricted to parlor tricks. She lived it out every day. Once, when a student named Raul was in debt for one hundred dollars to a street tough, Johnson lent him the money. But it was on one condition; Raul could pay her back only on the day he graduated.

Johnson believed in her students so much that they began to believe in themselves. Raul, whose mother and father had stopped going to school in second and third grades, hung in there and graduated. He is the first person in his family to earn a high school diploma.

Source: Winning with people, by John C. Maxwell