Behavioral scientists and other related professionals have taken their understanding of human behavior and come up with some useful information that has practical applications in everyday life.
One example is the work of management consultant Dr. Robert M. Bramson on coping with difficult people.
In his book, Bramson categorizes difficult types of individuals into easily understood descriptions. His suggestions and instructions are not to change these people, instead he tells you how to cope with the havoc they can create.
Let’s look at the difficult person he calls the “exploder.”
The exploder throws temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way and feels psychologically threatened. The exploder may not be conscious of his tactics, but the end result is he tends to intimidate people. If he can force them into withdrawal or silence, he can get his way.
Some adults, according to Bramson, use tactics of temper tantrums learned in childhood because they have found they still work. An exploder may pound the desk, shout and scream or even throw things. This aggressive and outlandish behavior demoralizes everyone around him, forcing them to walk on egg shells to prevent other outbursts. This tantrum behavior, Bramson says, produces a greater backwash of anger and resistance than any of the other difficult behaviors.
What is the strategy for coping with an exploder?
- Find a way to calm him down.
- Divert his attention with a planned interruption, such as “let’s take a break for coffee and discuss this when we get back.” Or, “Calm down, I think I can understand what you are trying to say much better that way.”
- To break the spell during the tantrum, you must get the attention of the exploder. You may even have to yell, “Stop.”
- Once you have stopped the explosion, show him you take him seriously, but draw him aside and continue the conversation in privacy.
Another type of difficult person is the “complainer.”
The complainer is a chronic griper who can wear you down by his whiney, negative, pessimistic outlook. This person can lower the morale of the office or organization and end up causing disruption.
To cope with complainers you first must understand what lies behind their complaint. Usually, complainers are powerless people who are not in charge of their own life. They can’t make things happen for themselves. They simply think that good things come to other people from favors or good luck. They have a strong sense of how things and people ought to be, but have not found the answers.
- To cope with a complainer, you must listen attentively. This not only helps the complainer get his frustration out in the open, it also provides you with enough detail to help.
- Acknowledge that you understand him without agreeing with him.
- Move quickly into problem solving with him. Be prepared to interrupt and state facts. Keep in mind the complainer is prone to exaggeration, distortion, and over generalizing. Be prepared to counter these tendencies and help the complainer work toward solutions.
- Break the cycle of accusation, defense and reaccusation. Otherwise, the complainer will get you bogged down. Don’t let him waste time and patience by restating the problem over and over.
There are other types of difficult people and suggested ways of coping with them that I will discuss in future columns.
In the meantime, good luck in dealing with the exploder and the complainer.
Copyright c 1990 Harold H. LeCrone, Jr., Ph.D.