COPE CopeLine Supervisor

July 2019

Your Wellness & Work-Life Newsletter

Dealing with Difficult People and Their Outbursts


We all have moments when we react in a hostile way, or just don't feel like being flexible on an issue. Some people, however---whether a public official, a colleague or neighbor---are difficult by nature and are consistently hard to deal with. The trick to coping with them is to recognize and neutralize the impact of their behavior.

What You Need to Know About Difficult People

Abrasive people learn early in life that their behavior keeps others off balance and unable to work effectively. Anger is often their weapon of choice. Whether spoken, tweeted, delivered directly or through another person, anger provides a sense of control over others by deflecting or changing the focus from the original topic. Put another way, anger typically masks what's going on inside the angry individual.

Stay Calm. Be Firm.

The ideal way to respond to a difficult situation and/or person is to stay calm but firm. Reject the urge to fight back---that's likely to escalate tensions. By calmly standing firm, you empower yourself and shift control away from the difficult person back to the larger group.

• Let the abuser rage for a short while until the anger loses some momentum.
• Remain in place and look directly at them.
• Stand your ground without letting the argument escalate.
• Speak from your point of view---"In my opinion... ."

Follow the tips below so you can gain the necessary skills to handle difficult-personality types.

Three Common Difficult-Personality Types and How to Cope With Them

The Bully: Bullies are typically hostile to others, sometimes badgering people to get their way. They may put people down in order to empower themselves and throw tantrums or belittle others to get what they want. Here are suggestions for how to best respond to the bully:
•Let the bully rage for a short while until the anger loses some momentum.
•Remain in place and look directly at them.
•Be firm and clear and state your point of view without letting the argument escalate.
•If interrupted, say,"you interrupted me, XXXX" calling them by their name.
•If seated, stand up. Try to get the bully to sit down.
•Speak from your point of view--"In my opinion..."

The Torpedo: If it is a torpedo you have on your hands, then the coping tactics are different. A torpedo typically take personal shots at you or others that are harder to recognize. They use not-so-subtle digs, gossip or they tease. The torpedo craves control of the situation, but won't say so. Here's how to respond to them:
•Ask them to speak clearly and directly when they disagree.
•Call them out by asking, "That sounded like a dig; do you mean it that way?"
•If the torpedoing is in front of others, stop and address the attack then.
•Phrase your response as a question, which gives the torpedo an alternative to fighting.
•If you witness a torpedo attack between others, don't put yourself in the middle--instead of helping you may make others angry with you.

Complainers: Complainers find fault with everything it seems, putting others on the defensive. Complainers are either open with their criticism or private. If private, the complainer grumbles to one person about another so that he or she remains without blame. How to cope with the complainer:
•Ask the complainer for problem-solving solutions.
•Listen respectfully, letting the complainer blow off steam.
•Repeat the suggestions so that he or she knows they have been heard.
•Be careful about agreeing with the complainer--it may confirm that you are responsible.
•Don't let the complainer use words like "never" or "always" without specific examples.
•If appropriate ask for complaints and suggestions in writing.
•If the complainer is accusing someone other than you, tell them to speak to that person--forcing the direct involvement he or she wants to avoid.

We have described a few of the types of people that you may encounter at work. The goal when coping with difficult people is to undo their controlling behavior so that you can get on with your work. Only when their destructive attitudes fail to work will difficult people have an incentive to change.

Written by: Michele Ginnerty, M.A. Edited by Mary Sue McClain

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