RESPONDING TO DIFFICULT SITUATIONS
AND THE PEOPLE WHO CAUSE THEM
By: Stephen C. Rafe
© 2004, 2012. Stephen C. Rafe. All rights reserved.
Let's face it: Some people can be difficult to communicate with at times. When they are, how do you respond? Here are some of the more difficult situations to handle, and some thoughts on how to deal with each one.
* BUILDS UP SELF -- People who boast may seem conceited but their words often mask a lack of confidence in themselves. When they speak, they may call attention to own cleverness, looks, courage, strength, humor, possessions, or knowledge. Some individuals are quite obvious, but others may appeal for praise indirectly, or use a humble or deferential tone of voice.
Response: These individuals may "turn you off," arousing your desire to disapprove -- especially if the boasting is blatant. How ever, it is better to recognize their need to be reassured, especially about the trait they "promote." Acknowledge and accept their comments about themselves. Assure them that they have done well in describing their strength in those traits. Their self-esteem may be faltering at the moment and your gentle handling will lead to better dialogs.
* ATTACKS OTHERS -- Some attackers deliver bludgeoning verbal attacks frequently laden with cursing, name-calling, and the like. Others attack in a less-obvious way, frequently giving the outside appearance of being calm, calculated, and controlling. When the attack is heated, the accompanying non-verbals tend to be exaggerated. Such attackers may be showing both their frustration and their apparent shortage of coping skills -- alternative courses of action which could help them succeed better. Their frustration may increase when they realize their efforts are not succeeding, possibly leading to increased hostility. Although their attacks seem to be directed at you, such individuals are often attacking themselves. They may be aware, at some level, of their own shortcomings either with the issue or with their handling of it. If you become hostile toward them in return, you may cause them to feel their own anger was justified and that your response "proves" their case.
Response: Match their voice tones, word strength, and body language, but direct it toward the issue, not the individual. Then, gradually turn down the heat. A calm, calculated attacker is a bit more complex. Here are a few examples of how implicit attackers might communicate:
Minimizing (damning with faint praise) -- Such people may try to belittle you or say that what you have done is not enough. They may also try to limit your positive statements. For example, if you were to say, "That's a nice skirt," a minimizer might respond with pained voice tones and: "So you don't like the blouse."
Response: Sort through minimizers' comments and get down to the specifics of what they do and do not like. Ask them for concrete information.
Teasing (including ridicule and sarcasm) -- Teasers are often said to be hiding anger. It may be directly related to the situation, or it could have to do with their own past experiences. Such people are often attempting to provoke, belittle, or make others appear foolish. They may also be trying to show off, or have others think they are "clever." Sarcasm may also be their way of trying to cover up anger or frustration with themselves.
Response: Do not react with anger or hurt. Remain calm. This should cause teasers to 1.) lose interest, 2.) seek another target, or, hopefully, 3.) change their approach to a more constructive one.
Gossiping -- People who gossip are generally insecure and unable to express themselves directly to the absent individuals. Belittling others may be their attempt to a) empower themselves, or b) justify or vindicate their own feelings and emotions.
Response: When people try to feed you gossip, keep in mind that you may be their next target. Try steering the conversation to more constructive areas. Do not comment on (or participate in) the individual's criticisms. As a last resort, excuse yourself from the conversation.
* COMPARES YOU UNFAVORABLY WITH OTHERS -- People who make unfair comparisons may be trying to attack your feelings of adequacy -- your self-worth. Psychologists often describe such people as frustrated for other reasons and suggest that they are trying to use you as a release for their feelings.
Response: Ask more "what" questions (avoid "why") and keep such individuals talking. When you hear their accusations first-hand, you are more able to deal with them constructively. As you listen, keep redirecting their comments toward the issue at hand, and away from your personality. If an "attack" is unavoidable, try to direct their attack and yours toward the issue, not toward each other.
* MAKES DEMANDS -- Demanding individuals may be straight-forward ("I want to see that report on my desk on Monday."), or they may hint indirectly at what they expect. For example: "Do you have any thoughts on what to tell the boss if we don't have your report in my hands on Monday?" They may also make demands by interrupting you, or breaking off their conversation with you -- physically or verbally.
Response: If others make implicit demands of you, ask specific questions about what actions they expect of you. You can either ask them directly, or try to gain this information through feedback. If you give in to explicit demanders, you generally encourage them to treat you the same way in the future. You must decide whether the price is worth the outcome. Both types of demanders will assume that you knew what they "expected" of you, so it does not pay to act as though you did not understand their demand.
* CONTROLS OTHERS -- People who exploit others' needs for approval generally try to play on their victims' self-doubts. In trade, they seek your compliance with, or lack of opposition to, their demands. In short, they expect you to give in to them when they say things that make you feel good about yourself.
Response: When you sense that others are trying to control you, keep in mind that people who feel the need to control others often have a strong fear of the consequences of being out of control. When others try to manipulate you into doing something, get behind their motives. One way is to ask them a lot of "what" questions. This should help you discover what gains they are seeking. If you share their goals, address your mutual interests and lead the individual toward the same objectives, but on your terms.
When you have faced enough of life's difficult dialogs, you may sometimes experience another kind of problem: Accepting the good intentions of most of the people with whom you interact. Specifically, never lose sight of individuals who:
* OFFER CARING -- Such people have no hidden motives, or agendas, at all. They make no efforts at self-aggrandizement, attack, demanding, or control. They show genuine interest, concern for, and respect for, others' views. They listen well and give sincere compliments and responses to your views. They offer suggestions, not advice. They try to help, not control. They accept -- and try to understand the cause of -- others' feelings without taking them personally.
Response: Be grateful and do your best to be like them. They know the most important skills for communications' success. Learn from their ability to listen carefully and to work at understanding others. As you do, you may find your own good feelings about yourself growing even stronger, leading the sometimes-difficult individuals in life to look to you in the future for your good will.
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