Quiet types also can be difficult
In recent columns, I’ve discussed difficult people and how to cope with the havoc they create using labels described by Dr. Robert M. Bramson in his book Coping With Difficult People.
After the shattering commotion of the Exploder, who may pound on desks, throw temper tantrums, and childishly demand his own way, the effects of the Passive Aggressive may seem wimpish. But the Passive Aggressive can become a saboteur within a group or organization. He may work from hidden agendas. Unlike the Sniper, who may be attempting to shore up a week ego by verbally undermining others, the Passive Aggressive may have more malignant needs, so deeds rather than words are needed to satisfy his inadequacy.
This saboteur’s deeds and acts often remain undiscovered until it is too late. Their behaviors should be carefully monitored as soon as they become suspect. Like the Sniper, the Passive Aggressive fears confrontation. To cope with him, you must expose his behavior and let him know it will not be tolerated as it can be dangerous.
Another type of difficult personality is the Maverick. This is a person whose needs aren’t met by being a team player. A Maverick is often driven by creative, iconoclastic needs to do his own thing and sail in unchartered waters.
Working with him, you need to capitalize on his strengths. At times, the Maverick may serve as the devil’s advocate and can be valuable as one who looks at problems in a different way. He may provide balance and even prevent “rutted” thinking. His contribution can be invaluable; his energy and ideas, if channeled properly, can serve the organization well. Recognizing the needs of the Maverick to be different, and enabling him to perceive himself as contributing to the organization without marching in a line can make him a springboard for entrepreneurial endeavors.
Coping with difficult people first entails understanding them. This understanding can be gained by observation and communication. Then, recognizing that imperfection in people is the rule rather than the exception, learning to deal with them on a day-to-day basis is seen as a challenge rather than as a threat.
Several years ago a friend provided me with some good advice for understanding management’s goal. He encouraged me to think of the whole organization as a machine, one which in day-to-day operation produced friction and noise as an inevitable part of its operation.
Instead of attempting to eliminate the friction and noise (an impossible task), he encouraged me to reframe my thinking. My goal, he said, should be to minimize the friction and noise to a tolerable level. Then the organization could proceed humming along, sometimes louder, but always at a level we could stand. When applied properly, this seems to work well for many of us dealing with difficult people.
Copyright c 1990 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.