How to deal with difficult people/ people you don't like?

posted
14-Oct-11, 08:53
edited a moment later
by huhu 1 star member
Avatar for huhu
posted about 6 years ago
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 09:31:21 =======
I will be attending a conference at the end of this month and I have just discovered an old and very competitive friend of mine will be attending it to. During my 1st or 2nd year of PhD, she was questioning me in a teasing way about my PhD and all the choices that I had made regarding it- does it feel really good to study in the country where I am studying now (lets call it as "country C")? Am I really happy to be in "country C"? Is my supervisor really have a wide/ deep knowledge about my topic? Are there really many robots (my research is on robotics) in my lab? How many robots are there in my lab? Why did our another friend graduate earlier than me although he was also studying in "country C"? She even added that, according to the world ranking, "country A", and "country B" publish the highest and second highest number of journal papers respectively, "country C " only falls on the 3rd place. Bla bla bla... That, it feels like she was meaning to say that what I am doing and all my choices are not good enough and are rubbish.
Now, looking at my current situation- lack of support/ guidance from my supervisor, not much progress, only doing about 50% from my initial research plan, still have a large part of my research to finish until the end of this year, feeling lost, no one to discuss about my project with in here, not so many robots existing/ produced in my lab, I do feel lonely / depressed sometimes in here, have been on sleeping pills every now and then, will be presenting a very basic topic in the conference (that I am really suffering) and looking at her situation- having husband, 2 or 3 kids, a good career as a lecturer although she does not have a Phd yet (in my country we can be a lecturer although we don't have a PhD yet), producing many papers every year, became a paper reviewer, won a research grant from the government last year, will be going to pursue her PhD in "country B" soon, I am feeling that may be she is right.:-( Things have not been as well as I have hoped/ expected but I am still ploughing on. :-l I am quite certain that she will ask more judgmental questions when we meet. I don't want to lie nor brag about things that are not really that good, nor reply to her with harsh words, but I also don't want admit that she is right nor look like a hopeless pathetic person who is going to lose her mind :-s. Any advice? Thanks.
posted
14-Oct-11, 10:09
by phdbug 5 star member
Avatar for phdbug
posted about 6 years ago
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 10:17:19 =======
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 10:14:57 =======
Quote From huhu:

Now, looking at my current situation- lack of support/ guidance from my supervisor, not much progress, only doing about 50% from my initial research plan, still have a large part of my research to finish until the end of this year, feeling lost, no one to discuss about my project with in here, not so many robots existing/ produced in my lab, I do feel lonely / depressed sometimes in here, have been on sleeping pills every now and then, will be presenting a very basic topic in the conference (that I am really suffering) and looking at her situation- having husband, 2 or 3 kids, a good career as a lecturer although she does not have a Phd yet (in my country we can be a lecturer although we don't have a PhD yet), producing many papers every year, became a paper reviewer, won a research grant from the government last year, will be going to pursue her PhD in "country B" soon, I am feeling that may be she is right.:-( Things have not been as well as I have hoped/ expected but I am still ploughing on. :-l I am quite certain that she will ask more judgmental questions when we meet. I don't want to lie nor brag about things that are not really that good, nor reply to her with harsh words, but I also don't want admit that she is right nor look like a hopeless pathetic person who is going to lose her mind :-s. Any advice? Thanks.


Dear Huhu,

I have a feeling others will disagree with what I say but are you absolutely confident that the issues/problems/whatever you call it are with your friend? Perhaps they are to do with the constellation of factors in which you are finding yourself right now?

I am sure you know her best - but sometimes people ask lots of questions about other people's research which are perceived as competitive when truly rivalry is not the spirit in which they are asked. I say this because I think I have been on the receiving end of this verdict a few times - and because I know who I am, at heart, and I know what kind of a person I am - it has hurt me. Now - if I did not care about these individuals, or if I was an achieving robot without a heart these verdicts would not matter. But they do - but nobody knows they do, and that I think about it a lot and I wish I could change things.

I could cite some recent instances but to preserve anonymity I will not. I am only saying that - if you were in a different position right now, would your perceptions of this person be (even slightly) different? if yes, then maybe it is just one of those situations where it is nobody's fault yet one person does not like the other.

You have every right to avoid those you wish to avoid, so you can always just shut her out at the conference if you wish, be cold and distant and go away for coffee or to 'meet someone' in Room X if she walks up to you.

If this person does NOT really have a bad heart, and does NOT wish her friends to dislike her, but sometimes people do, then there is a chance she feels uncomfortable with every tiny success she has - and if it is of any comfort to you - feeling like that is not a good place to be. If she does have a heart and she does value her friends, and yet notices valued people withdrawing, there is a 100 per cent chance she blames herself entirely and that article or grant or whatver she has acheieved, and perhaps even dislikes herself for it. Now that is of no potential comfort to you, perhaps, so you can always just shut her out - she wont even be able to ask why!
posted
14-Oct-11, 10:35
by Eska 4 star member
Avatar for Eska
posted about 6 years ago
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 10:51:05 =======
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 10:47:39 =======
Hi Huhu,

PhD Bug could be right in that some people just don't have any social skills and genuinely have no idea how annoying they are to others. What your friend is saying may or may not be 'correct', but either way she is not your manager and your career decisions are your business, not hers. I think some people can forget this, especially in an intense environment like academia.

I often see people who have made decisions with their PhD or career that seem unwise to me, but I do not know the whole story of why those choices where important to them. Neither am I in a position to offer unsolicited advice - I am not their supervisor or parent. Some people just don't realise how patronising and annoying it is when people behave as if 'they know better', whether they realise they are doing so or not. What if you questioned her decision to have children, how will that damage her career? Sounds dreadful put like that doesn't it? She has no right to poke around in your affairs uninvited.

The fact is, you don't actually know what it would be like in another country or lab or with another supervisor, and neither does she - it could even be much worse, regardless of outward reputations (my masters looked astounding from the outside, but was in reality pretty much a disaster for most of the students). So you, like most of us, must be positive about your current situation and make the very best of it - I think it would be unwise to move at this late stage in your PhD. If she is hindering that, intentionally or otherwise, then, I think you should give her a wide berth.

I think you should just smile, say thank you for the advice and move on to talk to someone else who treats you more as an equal, regardless of what they think of your career decisions.







.

posted
14-Oct-11, 10:50
edited about 14 seconds later
Avatar for DrCorinne
posted about 6 years ago
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 11:59:01 =======
======= Date Modified 14 Oct 2011 10:51:19 =======
Hello Huhu,

I think that many people are just very insecure in spite of the fact that from the outside they look very successful. I had more than one chance to see that these confident researchers probably wouldn't get very far without supportive supervisors, etc. and you should consider that you probably know only her version of this great success.

Also, a person that is genuinely interested in what you do does not try every trick to cast a shadow on you or your work (they shouldn't praise you all the time either though!).

I usually try to answer as politely and as vaguely as possible, I avoid to disclose any plan for the future and then step back and avoid contact with people like this as much as possible if I can. Your PhD seems already quite a stressful experience, and I think that you should focus on networking with people who can show support and understanding.

posted
14-Oct-11, 16:11
by Heidy 1 star member
Avatar for Heidy
posted about 6 years ago
Hi Huhu, Sorry for the long reply! It seems to me that your friend is saying things that strike a chord with you, things that you are thinking about yourself. Remember that PhD students are perfectionists and are probably more used to succeeding at what they set out to achieve than many other people. That may bode well for getting onto a PhD but not necessarily for doing one, especially during the difficult middle part of your research. Question: what exactly makes her your friend - especially right now? And why do you want to handle her with kid gloves? Are you afraid/in awe of her? Or rather jealous? We may be grown ups but that does not mean that we do not have a nemesis, each one of us. (Mine is Beyonce right now! The woman scares me…) I think you are also putting all your fears into one basket: the unease about the conference and your presentation, about the current progress in your PhD, about your friend's comments and her achievements, together with your impatience regarding your private life, and your fear of failure. Try to separate one from the other, and try to deal with them one by one - why not with the help of supportive, fellow PhD students or a counselling service? (There's no shame in asking for help!) Please, don't forget that no-bo-dy is perfect. It's always easier to impress people that are yearning for what one has achieved already; think of youngsters and how their eyes light up when they see a grown-up in his/her shiny new car (probably leasing for the next 20 years...). Your friend may easily impress you as a yet unmarried, childless PhD student but not necessarily a working, married mum of two+ children. Instead of listing all her achievements, how about asking yourself how well she achieves all of them on a daily basis? Further, your friend is not doing a PhD herself yet. Who knows, she may sail through the process. Alternatively, she may find it very difficult to cope in country B at some stage. After all, one should not count one's chickens before they are hatched! So when you meet her, do remember that you are talking to someone who, as regards doing a PhD, is still wet behind her ears and nowhere near as experienced as you are - simple truth. Further, ask yourself whether you are interpreting your friend's comments correctly or whether you are just very aware of your insecurities right now, pointing your finger at her, rather than at the upcoming conference, your probably weak(er) support network or your impatience with yourself. Without belittling what you wrote, is there a chance that you are reading more into what she is saying than there is to it? What makes you think that she is not impressed with you in some way? Otherwise, why would she, a woman as successful and arguably busy as you have described her, remain in touch with you? If she wanted to have a good laugh or sneer, she could watch Gok’s “How to look good naked” on TV or go to the theatre. However, if she is really the source of your stress, then as harsh as it may sound: My dear Huhu, please grow a pair! Don't let her walk all over you, especially during this infuriating, difficult time in your studies. What is happening to you now is a good lesson for your life anyway. As a PhD holder/academic, you will always meet people that will not mince their words about your research, your choice of methodology, country, life style, partner, age for having a baby, salary, etc. Further, what she is saying to you as a PhD student, is what many emigrants hear from clever clogs back home: "Why did you leave for country C? If you had stayed here, or gone to country A/B, you could be like me or like your cousin or our best friend XYZ now. Etc, etc." At least, you are getting a PhD out of your efforts! So, deal with it like the strong, grown-up immigrant and PhD student you are - head on. I have been on both sides of conversations like the one you described. And speaking from experience, what annoys me most w
posted
14-Oct-11, 16:17
by Heidy 1 star member
Avatar for Heidy
posted about 6 years ago
Sorry - part 2: And speaking from experience, what annoys me most when I am trying to get through to a friend is when she rebuffs my attempts, staying calm and friendly but ultimately intransigent. Even worse, when she remains tight-lipped, thanking me with a big smile for my "kind words" - and then listing the same good sides to what she is doing over and over again in a mixture of impenetrable naivety and optimism. Never mentions her hardships and never talks about the downsides. At most, she says cryptically that "nothing is perfect but overall I really enjoy it" and leaves it at that. Deep down inside she may be boiling with anger and insecurity at my comments, but she never shows it on the outside, making me question my assumptions after our chats. So, my dear Huhu, grow-a-pair: Meet up with your friend, regard her as a non-PhD holder and as another imperfect human being, with faults just like anyone else, but with a great support system. Listen carefully and calmly to what she is saying and when you think that she is starting to rub it in, retort in a calm, repetitive way and with a smile - just as you may at that conference you are going to. Do not take what she says personal - this is not the time to read much into seemingly harsh comments. Please do not hold an honest conversation with her about your studies at any stage, no matter how friendly she may suddenly become. Do not give her any sincere advice about studying abroad (at least nothing that she could not get from a uni prospectus). Most importantly, for the sake of your own sanity during this difficult time, and for that of your research and your presentation, keep that hag (;]) - whether it's your inner voice that has taken on the shape of your old friend, or indeed that super-achiever of an old friend - at an arm's length, playing a mixture of dumb, amused and very optimistic. Dont' forget, she does not have the first idea what it's like to be in your shoes - and your job is to keep it like that. Do not spoil the horrors of doing a PhD for her, ;]! Keep your head up, Heidy x .
posted
15-Oct-11, 09:32
edited about 19 seconds later
Avatar for mak_2011
posted about 6 years ago
======= Date Modified 15 Oct 2011 11:23:41 =======
Hi Huhu,

Here is a very simple tip that I ended up using against "some" such people. When suppose you have identified a person as very annoying in this way, you can simply do something to fight back instead of getting tense yourself. When the person asks a question, you realize that it is only for annoying you and if you answer, the person will launch another. So, simply don't reply and instead ask the same or another intelligent question. So, if the question was truly for learning about your work, the other person will then actually start a conversation with you. And if it was for annoying you, the person may simply stop.

e.g.
A: Are you really happy in your country?
B: Are you happy in yours? or Can people be happy anywhere? or When did you find happiness in your life?
A: Answers something . . .
B: Answer similar to how A has answered (e.g. Like you, I . . . .)

A: Are you happy with your topic?
B: What do you think? or May I know why you are asking this? or How would you define happiness? or some other question.

Hope this helps

Cheers
posted
15-Oct-11, 09:37
edited about 22 seconds later
Avatar for mak_2011
posted about 6 years ago
Another one. . .

A: How many robots are in your lab?
B: Ahan so how many do you think people need to do substantial research? or How many did you have? and then follow up with: Is there any published scientific correlation between the number of robots in a lab and substantial research? If there is one, please do let me know. Or I don't keep a count but why are you asking? If you want, you can come and count them yourself. etc.

Cheers
posted
15-Oct-11, 10:43
edited about 22 seconds later
by phdbug 5 star member
Avatar for phdbug
posted about 6 years ago
I'm on my way out of this forum, but I couldn't help adding - what is wrong in people asking questions about your research? Many ask of me - if I am enjoying my research, if I am happy with my department, if my supervision is fine, how many bla bla or bla are there, whether we are encouraged to publish. I do too, and I dont think either side feels challenged in the process. at least in the questions Mak identifies below - I would see *absolutely* nothing wrong! Research is about people asking questions and being interested.

I would strongly re-iterate what Heidy says and what I said in my reply - a lot of the original post is about things the OP feels as inadequacies when everyone might have different inadequacies or flaws. That should not lead to the assumption that the question "are you happy with your PhD" is necessarily such a horrid question to ask.
posted
15-Oct-11, 11:09
edited about 6 seconds later
Avatar for mak_2011
posted about 6 years ago
Quote From phdbug:

I'm on my way out of this forum, but I couldn't help adding - what is wrong in people asking questions about your research? . . .
I would strongly re-iterate what Heidy says and what I said in my reply - a lot of the original post is about things the OP feels as inadequacies when everyone might have different inadequacies or flaws. That should not lead to the assumption that the question "are you happy with your PhD" is necessarily such a horrid question to ask.


Nice pearl of wisdom by phdbug. Good point. (up)
posted
15-Oct-11, 11:39
by phdbug 5 star member
Avatar for phdbug
posted about 6 years ago
I will be honest.

Let me also add that I am one person who for a fact - feels completely inadequate - when I see people balancing a PhD and a relationship, or a PhD and kids. My CV shows a young age and some achievements, but within me, I know for a fact that my own priorities (top prioriites) in life and a long term, committed, stable relationship and children - primarily because I never got a proper family when I grew up and my parents were unhappy and then broke up.

And when I see PhDers or post docs with a partner to go home to or throwing a lovely party with their kids making little hand printed cards for them - I sometimes feel I am making all the wrong f*&&*ed up choices in life. It takes me quite a long while to tell myself - there is still time, and maybe, maybe, I am not that inadequate.

But who knows, perhaps those who I feel inadequate around feel PhDbug is young and has 3 articles published and did a phd in 3 yrs and always asks excited questions about research - she is horrid. They dont know what i feel with regard to their lives.

This is my point - what I revealed above is a bare, honest confession of my biggest feeling of inadequacy. That does not make my colleague with a kid or with a 15 yr relationship a bad person.
posted
15-Oct-11, 11:49
by ady 5 star member
Avatar for ady
posted about 6 years ago
You're very honest and express yourself very well PhDBug so thank you for the other side of the story.

I'm one of those juggling PhD women (I have four children). My sister works in academia, has a partner but very def, children are not on the agenda for either of them. She feels similar to you. Outwardly she is very successful, looks fab but says that she is terrified when she encounters 'juggling women' and feel inadequate. I, on the other hand feel that I am not taken as seriously as somebody like you or my sister given that it is known I cannot fully commit to study given my family committments. For example, geographically I am constricted as to what jobs I can apply for post-PhD but if I was 'really' committed to academia, geography wouldn't be an issue, would it???

I think the discussion on this thread demonstrates really well that what we see is the surface only. Who really knows what another is feeling?

Good luck with your future career PhDBug; it can't be easy relocated so far from home. I know you're departing the forum but maybe check in every now and then if you can.
posted
15-Oct-11, 12:01
edited about 11 seconds later
by phdbug 5 star member
Avatar for phdbug
posted about 6 years ago
Thanks very much dear Ady.

A story from last month. So i finished my PhD in 3 years and moved to a new country (again) with this job. Ok. The moving months were incredibly tough (emotionally) for various reasons however, it did not reflect on my work (I developed work as an outlet for other pains back when I was 14-15).

A friend of mine - who is in a phD programme came to visit me. She is 4 yrs older, halfway through the PhD, has a partner. I cooked for her etc. All the time she was there she told me how sad it is that I dont have more friends in the new country, and that I am single and I should asap join stuff to find people because work is not everything.

I felt miserable, I went online and tried to google groups and clubs and got stuck. That evening, we had drinks. A male friend of mine, with his girlfriend around - had had a few caipirinhas. He said point blank - "look at you. Moving around from continetn A to continent B, and now you will move again. I dont want that life. Maybe it is because you dont have a relationship that you feel this tremdnous need to perform".

he is a really nice guy and I did NOT expect that comment.

Inadequacies are fine and they often get reflected on to those we think are in a better position. But things become a problem if we feel small as a result - like that evening, I thought - wow, I finished my PHD earlier - but he is right - they have partners and stability and I am this rootless person.
posted
15-Oct-11, 12:13
by ady 5 star member
Avatar for ady
posted about 6 years ago
that was a pretty insensitive comment for that guy to make to you. It's horrible how a nice evening can be spoiled by a comment like that. I certainly am in awe of you Phdbug and think your successes are brilliant. Remember Bridget Jones and her comments about 'smug marrieds'??? I really hope I'm not one of those, I try not to be.

I really respect people who are open to moving and starting again in new places. While I may bemoan the fact that family prohibits me from applying for jobs in far away places, secretly it also means I don't even have to try!

Best of luck Bug, you'll do brilliantly (up)
posted
15-Oct-11, 12:54
edited about 5 seconds later
Avatar for DrCorinne
posted about 6 years ago
======= Date Modified 15 Oct 2011 12:56:13 =======
======= Date Modified 15 Oct 2011 12:55:40 =======
I think that Huhu simply expressed the fact that she is uneasy when meeting that particular friend/ colleague.

Every person deal with these situations in their own way. There is nothing wrong in asking questions, but there are different ways to pose a question, and different ways to perceive them. We all have our luggage of personal experiences when it comes to this. As it has been said, we all deal with our own insecurities.

I certainly have plenty, and I don't feel better than anyone else. But it is true that often the grass of our neighbour looks greener. If you have a family you feel that you are missing on your academic life. If you don't have one and you are surrounded by people with partners and children you feel that you miss on that side.

Definitely there is not right or wrong. It is about what suits you best, and above all, what you can do with the cards that you have. Sometimes it's not a choice, and that guy should have kept is big mouth shut! His remarks were very inappropriate Phdbug!


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