In September, we brought a companion home for my donkey, Flash. For awhile there, I was convinced we'd made a huge mistake.
Flash has been with us for several years - all by himself, happy as can be. Content with the cows and horses across the fence for company. Flash has been a GREAT donkey. Super chill, unbelievably nice and easygoing. His gentle disposition and laid-back style have made us proud to show him off to anyone who wants to know what an awesome donkey is like.
Flash is the poster-child for sweetness.
Now enter Henry, the "vertically-challenged" newcomer with a scrappy personality.
Suddenly, my sweet donkey had trouble being sweet. The first couple of months were rough. Everything Henry did seemed to meet the disapproval of Flash, who stomped, laid his ears back, wheezed and pushed Henry aside as often as possible. It was like Henry brought out the worst in him.
And Henry didn't do himself any favors with his behavior. He competed for attention, wanted to be fed first, demanded to eat Flash's hay, and did his fair share of kicking and biting. He was Flash's "Difficult Person" to learn to love, and frankly, it looked pretty hopeless.
But I've noticed some subtle changes in how Flash has been dealing with Henry, and it's amazing how much better things have been going. Strange as it may seem, I'm taking a few notes for dealing with the difficult donkeys people in my life.
Perhaps this will help you, too:
A simple nod of Flash's head toward Henry seems to diffuse a lot of the friction. It's as if he is saying, "I see that you have some issues, and it's ok." Henry has had to fight for food his whole life. He's never been loved. Sometimes bad behavior comes from some pretty tough knocks.
A little understanding often stops conflict in its tracks.
2. Pick your battles.
There are two piles of hay - plenty to go around. But Henry ALWAYS wants the pile that Flash is eating from. So annoying. Flash used to make a big scene, but now he just moves over with a shrug. And since he started doing this, I've noticed that Henry isn't quite as insistent on stealing.
Asking, "Is this important?" and "Will this matter a year from now?" can help you decide which hills are worth dying on.
3. Find common ground.
Flash saw Henry as competition; an interloper who disrupted his tidy life. He needed to get over the fact that Henry was both adorable and slightly needy - two things that didn't bode well for fitting in. Now, I see the two of them sharing grazing time, no doubt discussing which winter weeds are most tasty. They both enjoy dirt baths, taking turns like gentlemen. They both love to nap in the sun. They both enjoy carrots.
Finding common ground helps you work toward solutions together.
4. Put space between you.
Sometimes, Flash just walks away from Henry as if he's just had enough. He moves to another area, and lets Henry decide if he wants to come along, or be alone in his principles. Henry almost always decides to follow, but will usually leave some distance between them. It's as if he knows he's gone too far. Without a word, Flash takes control of the situation by refusing to get involved in conflict.
Instead of letting yourself get drawn off-sides, try walking away. Take a deep breath. Stepping back helps you think clearly and stay in control of your emotions.
5. Lighten the mood.
Recently, we watched in disbelief as the donkeys played together in the pasture. At first we thought they were fighting, but then we realized that they were simply having fun. Violent fun, but fun nonetheless. Pawing, pretend biting, rearing, spinning in circles....it was pretty amazing! And since that time, I've noticed how having fun together has begun to build their bond.
Tell a joke, or share a laugh. Laughter immediately creates an atmosphere of trust and teamwork.
Who knew that a donkey could help me with my people problems? I'm taking these notes to heart, as I work on the relationships in my life.
How about you? Do you have difficult people to deal with? How can these principles help your situation? What other strategies work for you?
Learn more about Flash the Donkey's upcoming book.