Dealing with difficult behavior, Part 2: Six steps to resolution

In last week’s article, we introduced seven common types of workplace behavior that can cause problems: hostile/aggressive, complainer, unresponsive, super agreeable, negative, know-it-all and indecisive.

If you encounter problems with a coworker because they have a difficult personality, there’s more at stake than your own good mood. Your job could be on the line. It is in your own best interest to learn specific skills to help you interact more successfully with these people. Now let’s look closer at some ways to better handle folks who just hack you off!

Identify the situation

There are at six general steps you may take to cope with people displaying the above personalities. No matter what type of behavior you are facing, these steps can help you gain some control over the situation.

The first bit of advice is to distance yourself from the situation. Back off emotionally. In some cases, you may have to physically remove yourself from the problem environment. Take a walk, or do whatever helps clear your mind. You must be composed and relaxed to objectively evaluate the situation.

For me, I’ll try to go for a long run. I find the time alone on a running trail allows me to slowly rid myself of the initial anger, cool off and work on a proper response. The key to coming up with an effective response is to remain objective. If you’re emotional, the confrontation will only become worse.

Next, assess the situation. Is the person’s behavior typical or unusual? Did a particular situation or incident trigger it? Will a direct, open discussion resolve the problem? Examine the workplace and person’s environment. Is something going on that may have triggered the incident?

Do you need to let some time pass before you readdress the issue? The issue of waiting to respond to an issue is controversial. I have a sales person who always wants me to “immediately” respond to any client issue. Maybe that works for him, but it does not work for me.

I’ve learned that time can be a great reducer of intensity, which helps for clearer minds. If someone is irked about something you’ve done, immediately getting in their face to address the issue may not be the best approach. Consider giving them a day or even a weekend to cool off before you respond.

Plan the response

The third step is to develop a proper response. If the confrontations are frequent, then a longer-term solution may need to be implemented. If the issue was “out of the blue,” then maybe a lower-level response is in order.

Remember that you have the responsibility to change your response or reaction to their behavior. You can’t change them; you can only change yourself.

Say you’re dealing with a hostile/aggressive person. Visualize a typical outburst. See yourself standing firm and effectively dealing with the situation. If the problem is someone who’s indecisive, envision yourself persistently engaging the person until you get a commitment. You may even want to practice what you’ll say. If your hope of a successful interchange falters, start over, and practice it again.

The final step is to implement your plan. Choose the time and place carefully. Timing is everything. Don’t try your new scheme when the other person is in a particularly bad mood or under extra stress. You should be sufficiently aware of your workplace environment to know when to seek a resolution.

Monitor your success while you try these techniques. If you’re not getting the results you want, reassess the situation. If necessary, modify your approach and try again. Perhaps you misjudged or incorrectly categorized the other person’s behavior. If so, then using the wrong technique can make the situation worse.

Stop the tank

Using these general principles, let’s see how Chris might have better dealt with the errant Sherman tank reporter.

In last week’s article, the ENG engineer, Chris, was attacked by the reporter about an audio problem. Instead of confronting her, Chris retreated to the remote van and nursed his anger. His response is the opposite of what is needed to correct the reporter’s problem behavior.

If you allow the Sherman tank to push you around, you cease to exist in that person’s mind. When encountering this personality, you must stand your ground. When the reporter began to criticize Chris, he could have responded by forcefully saying, “Wait a minute. I did repair the mic cable. And, in fact, the cutout you’re complaining about was because your earpiece was not properly attached to the IFB receiver.” (Notice that Chris did not say, “…because you didn’t properly attach your earpiece to the IFB receiver.”) Attack the behavior, not the person. In the latter case, Chris would have been attacking the reporter, not the issue.

The nonthreatening response would have enabled the reporter to recognize Chris’s expertise and that he did repair the mic cable. It would also open the door for the reporter to perhaps realize that she may have been at fault for the audio cutout.

If the hostel/aggressive continues to yell, which is often typical, hold your ground. Don’t back off. Look directly at the person and, when the attack begins to lose momentum, jump into the conversation. If you wait for an opening, you may never get the chance to respond. Keep your response situational —not personality focused. Don’t attack the person. Address the issue.

Avoid the fight

Don’t let the conversation turn into a shouting match. Trying to win a shouting match with a hostile/aggressive personality is a losing proposition. These people are usually trained fighters, and they have many victories under their belts. But there are other reasons to avoid a fight with this type of personality.

If you win the battle, the tank will perceive the encounter as a loss and you might be setting yourself up for a surprise attack later. If you win by sniping (lobbing negative personal comments) at the tank, you’ve certainly set the stage for a counterattack. The important thing is to attack the issue, not the person.

Next week we’ll look at the negative personality. It’s likely you’ve encountered someone like this before. They often say things like, “But we’ve always done it this way,” or “It can’t be done because…”followed with a list of imagined reasons.