October 27th, 2017
Recognizing what drives them is the first step.
When you were 5, it was all about getting the cookie. Did you ask respectfully and get the cookie? Or did you yell and scream? Did you avoid making waves to get it? Or did you go behind your parents’ backs to get that cookie? Kids figure out what works and that communication style becomes part of their personality.
Being direct and open—communicating assertively—is healthiest and most efficient. While most people have a default style of communication, we all tend to use all four styles, depending on the situation and the person with whom we’re speaking. Communication is a learned skill, but it’s important to know we have a choice in how we communicate.
Passive-aggressive communication is the most challenging for others. If you’re faced with it, you don’t know where you stand; you may think the passive-aggressive is your friend, and you probably open up without realizing you risk being sabotaged. The passive-aggressive mode of operation is: “I will be nice to your face, but behind your back, I will do things to make you suffer in hell for the rest of your life.”
If you’ve ever thought about making that certain someone who needs to be taught a thing or two suffer—even just a teensy bit—you’re stepping close to that sneaky and devious world of the passive-aggressive. Don’t go there.
One passive-aggressive trait is gossiping and tattling. Anyone who says, “I am not a gossip,” probably is. If you hear disparaging words one minute followed by, “But she really is my good friend,” that’s another red flag.
When confronting someone for their passive-aggressive tendencies, realize they are motivated to seek revenge when they perceive an injustice done to them. You didn’t necessarily do them any wrong, but they believe your behavior inappropriate, unacceptable or unjust. Because they often believe their lives are controlled by others, they lack the skill, knowledge, desire and confidence to be assertive.
To deal with someone who communicates in a passive-aggressive style:
Another difficult personality is the passive person, who wants to avoid confrontation at all costs. Passives don’t talk much and question even less. They don’t want to rock the boat because they have learned it’s safer.
Passive people lack self-confidence to communicate assertively. They don’t trust other people to respond positively to their assertive attempts. Passive people act like everything is perfect and put everyone else first, but inside, they often are a seething mess.
Why bother learning how to deal with passive people? They are the saintly, never-cause-a-fuss, do-whatever- you-want people, right? In truth, passives constantly create havoc because they never let you know where they stand. They’re too busy keeping the peace.
To deal with a passive person:
Aggressive personality types use manipulation by inducing guilt, hurt, intimidation and control tactics. Covert or overt, aggressive people simply want their needs met—and right now!
People who communicate aggressively do it because it works. They’re bullies with words.
Aggressive communicators differ from those who are being assertive. While assertive people are forthright and open, aggressive communicators say what they mean, but they hold nothing back, usually at the expense of others’ feelings.
An assertive communication style is the only way to effectively deal with difficult people. Unfortunately, people use it the least.
Communicating assertively lets people know your needs, concerns and feelings in an open and honest way without threats, manipulation or hidden agendas. Assertive people ask questions, seek answers, look at all points of view and engage in meaningful, open-ended dialogue without anger, hurt feelings or defensiveness.
Remember, you always have a choice in your style of communication. You also have a choice in how people talk to you. Assertiveness will help you diffuse anger, reduce guilt and build relationships professionally and personally.
October 19th, 2017
Effectively managing conflict is arguably the hardest thing a manager has to do. I was recently reminded of this by a comment from a reader in response to a post (10 Things Successful Business People Aren’t Daunted By). Her observation? “I’ll be printing this off and putting it where I can read it every morning,” she wrote. “Dealing well with conflict (instead of running and hiding) has been one of my biggest challenges as a relatively new manager, so thank you for reminding me that conquering that fear of conflict is worth it!”
Actually she shouldn’t feel bad – she has lots of company. While now and then you’ll come across a manager who enjoys conflict, really relishes confrontation and dispute, the vast majority of people would much prefer not to deal with it, if given a choice.
Unfortunately, as a manager, if you’re going to do your job, you have no choice.
In that spirit, following are a few things I learned about it:
Accept the inevitability of conflict in management – As mentioned above, just recognize that addressing it is part of the job. Don’t waste energy ruminating about it, and don’t feel bad you feel bad about it. Just accept it for what it is: It comes with the managerial territory.
Don’t be a conflict-avoider. Difficult interpersonal workplace problems won’t disappear by ignoring them; they’ll only get worse. Chronic conflict-avoiders will end up losing the respect of their employees – and their own management.
Stay calm – Even when provoked, keep a close hold on your temper; stay as calm as you possibly can. There are some memorable lines from the famous Rudyard Kipling poem If: If you can keep your head when all about you/Are losing theirs and blaming it on you/If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you/But make allowance for their doubting too… And after several verses the poem concludes: Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it/And – which is more – you’ll be a man, my son. (Or a woman… Kipling wrote this in 1895.) Though it wasn’t written for business, I always felt there was management relevance in the message.
Maintain the moral high ground – A close cousin to the point directly above. You’re management. You’re the voice of reason. Don’t lose control or pull rank or cede the moral high ground – calm control is a much more advantageous position to manage and negotiate from.
Partner with HR – Though Human Resources operatives have become joking stereotypes on TV and in movies… I’ll state this in bold letters: When I was in management, my colleagues in Human Resources were of inestimable valuable to me on many occasions. I never hesitated to call on them when I faced difficult employee conflicts. They were unfailingly an objective third party, a sounding board, a valuable source of reasonable counsel. My philosophy was always, In delicate situations, get all the help you can.
Document meticulously – When serious conflict occurs, as a manager you’ll need accurate records of it. During employee performance appraisals, you’ll need clear documentation to avoid discussions dissolving into “he said/she said” disputes. And when it’s necessary to terminate someone, you of course need detailed documentation (again, a time to work closely with HR) or you may well have legal exposure.
Don’t’ think in terms of “winning,” so much as constructively resolving – No point winning the battle but losing the war. Management’s role is not to “defeat the enemy” (even though that may feel cathartic at times!), but to elicit optimal performance from the area you’re managing. Accordingly, best not to leave bodies in your wake but to get conflicts resolved fairly, expeditiously, and move forward as constructively as you can. Get closure and move ahead… the sooner, the better.
I don’t want to give the illusion any of this is easy.
It isn’t. It never is.
But if you can develop a consistent, rational approach to managing conflict, it can make your difficult job a lot less stressful than it would be without it.
As appeared on forbes.com
October 6th, 2017
Difficult people defy logic. Some are blissfully unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating chaos and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary complexity, strife and worst of all stress.
Studies have long shown that stress can have a lasting, negative impact on the brain. Exposure to even a few days of stress compromises the effectiveness of neurons in the hippocampus — an important brain area responsible for reasoning and memory. Weeks of stress cause reversible damage to neuronal dendrites (the small “arms” that brain cells use to communicate with each other), and months of stress can permanently destroy neurons. Stress is a formidable threat to your success — when stress gets out of control, your brain and your performance suffer.
Most sources of stress at work are easy to identify. If your non-profit is working to land a grant that your organization needs to function, you’re bound to feel stress and likely know how to manage it. It’s the unexpected sources of stress that take you by surprise and harm you the most.
Recent research from the Department of Biological and Clinical Psychology at Friedrich Schiller University in Germany found that exposure to stimuli that cause strong negative emotions — the same kind of exposure you get when dealing with difficult people — caused subjects’ brains to have a massive stress response. Whether it’s negativity, cruelty, the victim syndrome or just plain craziness, difficult people drive your brain into a stressed-out state that should be avoided at all costs.
The ability to manage your emotions and remain calm under pressure has a direct link to your performance. TalentSmart has conducted research with more than a million people, and we’ve found that 90 percent of top performers are skilled at managing their emotions in times of stress in order to remain calm and in control. One of their greatest gifts is the ability to neutralize difficult people. Top performers have well-honed coping strategies that they employ to keep difficult people at bay.
While I’ve run across numerous effective strategies that smart people employ when dealing with difficult people, what follows are some of the best. To deal with difficult people effectively, you need an approach that enables you, across the board, to control what you can and eliminate what you can’t. The important thing to remember is that you are in control of far more than you realize.
Complainers and negative people are bad news because they wallow in their problems and fail to focus on solutions. They want people to join their pity party so that they can feel better about themselves. People often feel pressure to listen to complainers because they don’t want to be seen as callous or rude, but there’s a fine line between lending a sympathetic ear and getting sucked into their negative emotional spiral.
You can avoid this only by setting limits and distancing yourself when necessary. Think of it this way: if the complainer were smoking, would you sit there all afternoon inhaling the second-hand smoke? You’d distance yourself, and you should do the same with complainers. A great way to set limits is to ask complainers how they intend to fix the problem. They will either quiet down or redirect the conversation in a productive direction.
Difficult people drive you crazy because their behavior is so irrational. Make no mistake about it; their behavior truly goes against reason. So why do you allow yourself to respond to them emotionally and get sucked into the mix? The more irrational and off-base someone is, the easier it should be for you to remove yourself from their traps. Quit trying to beat them at their own game. Distance yourself from them emotionally and approach your interactions like they’re a science project (or you’re their shrink, if you prefer the analogy). You don’t need to respond to the emotional chaos — only the facts.
Maintaining an emotional distance requires awareness. You can’t stop someone from pushing your buttons if you don’t recognize when it’s happening. Sometimes you’ll find yourself in situations where you’ll need to regroup and choose the best way forward. This is fine and you shouldn’t be afraid to buy yourself some time to do so.
Think of it this way — if a mentally unstable person approaches you on the street and tells you he’s John F. Kennedy, you’re unlikely to set him straight. When you find yourself with a coworker who is engaged in similarly derailed thinking, sometimes it’s best to just smile and nod. If you’re going to have to straighten them out, it’s better to give yourself some time to plan the best way to go about it.
This is the area where most people tend to sell themselves short. They feel like because they work or live with someone, they have no way to control the chaos. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Once you’ve found your way to Rise Above a person, you’ll begin to find their behavior more predictable and easier to understand. This will equip you to think rationally about when and where you have to put up with them and when you don’t. For example, even if you work with someone closely on a project team, that doesn’t mean that you need to have the same level of one-on-one interaction with them that you have with other team members.
You can establish a boundary, but you’ll have to do so consciously and proactively. If you let things happen naturally, you are bound to find yourself constantly embroiled in difficult conversations. If you set boundaries and decide when and where you’ll engage a difficult person, you can control much of the chaos. The only trick is to stick to your guns and keep boundaries in place when the person tries to encroach upon them, which they will.
Smart people know how important it is to live to fight another day, especially when your foe is a toxic individual. In conflict, unchecked emotion makes you dig your heels in and fight the kind of battle that can leave you severely damaged. When you read and respond to your emotions, you’re able to choose your battles wisely and only stand your ground when the time is right.
Where you focus your attention determines your emotional state. When you fixate on the problems you’re facing, you create and prolong negative emotions and stress. When you focus on actions to better yourself and your circumstances, you create a sense of personal efficacy that produces positive emotions and reduces stress.
When it comes to toxic people, fixating on how crazy and difficult they are gives them power over you. Quit thinking about how troubling your difficult person is, and focus instead on how you’re going to go about handling them. This makes you more effective by putting you in control, and it will reduce the amount of stress you experience when interacting with them.
Emotionally intelligent people are quick to forgive, but that doesn’t mean that they forget. Forgiveness requires letting go of what’s happened so that you can move on. It doesn’t mean you’ll give a wrongdoer another chance. Smart people are unwilling to be bogged down unnecessarily by others’ mistakes, so they let them go quickly and are assertive in protecting themselves from future harm.
Sometimes you absorb the negativity of other people. There’s nothing wrong with feeling bad about how someone is treating you, but your self-talk (the thoughts you have about your feelings) can either intensify the negativity or help you move past it. Negative self-talk is unrealistic, unnecessary and self-defeating. It sends you into a downward emotional spiral that is difficult to pull out of. You should avoid negative self-talk at all costs.
I’ve beaten this one to death over the years and can’t say enough about the importance of sleep to increasing your emotional intelligence and managing your stress levels. When you sleep, your brain literally recharges, so that you wake up alert and clear-headed. Your self-control, attention and memory are all reduced when you don’t get enough — or the right kind — of sleep. Sleep deprivation raises stress hormone levels on its own, even without a stressor present. A good night’s sleep makes you more positive, creative and proactive in your approach to toxic people, giving you the perspective you need to deal effectively with them.
It’s tempting, yet entirely ineffective, to attempt tackling everything by yourself. To deal with toxic people, you need to recognize the weaknesses in your approach to them. This means tapping into your support system to gain perspective on a challenging person. Everyone has someone at work and/or outside work who is on their team, rooting for them and ready to help them get the best from a difficult situation. Identify these individuals in your life and make an effort to seek their insight and assistance when you need it. Something as simple as explaining the situation can lead to a new perspective. Most of the time, other people can see a solution that you can’t because they are not as emotionally invested in the situation.
Before you get this system to work brilliantly, you’re going to have to pass some tests. Most of the time, you will find yourself tested by touchy interactions with problem people. Thankfully, the plasticity of the brain allows it to mold and change as you practice new behaviors, even when you fail. Implementing these healthy, stress-relieving techniques for dealing with difficult people will train your brain to handle stress more effectively and decrease the likelihood of ill effects.