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Managing Difficult People

In every organisation, in every part of our lives there are people who we just don’t get. They push our buttons and they make us go crazy… Why? Is it them or is it me? I would suggest that it is a bit of both!

To really understand better how to manage difficult people we first must understand how they make us feel, why it drives us so crazy and then we can look at what to do about it.

Tip 1: Push Button Adversities

The first tip is a something I will borrow from the school of resilience taught to me by Dr Andrew Shatté: Push Button Adversities. The concept of Push Button Adversities is that we all have a number of little things that just drive us crazy. The best way to understand it is to imagine your belly button is a button that when pushed up springs a whole array of adverse emotions that if let to run wild would spin you out of control. A Push Button Adversity is just that it is an experience that within seconds brings up those emotions and when not checked we can be guilty of allowing the emotion to take control (and this is when we say and do silly things we often regret). These adversities are shaped in a years and years experience that have formed belief structures in our sub-conscious.

For example a simple guy like me has a major Push Button Adversity that the world knows as to be flat-pack-furniture. I can proudly declare I acknowledge the benefit and wisdom of flat-pack-furniture but I also hate it!!!!! I hate it because it brings inside of me massive amounts of anxiety, frustration and anger. Why? Simple, I am no good at putting it together. So the experience of attempting to assemble a flat-pack of anything reminds me of my ‘inadequacies of a man’ because hey all men are meant to be good with a tools and handyman skills, aren’t that? (Well that’s what my childhood society suggested, even though my dad is pretty hopeless with a hammer and nails).

So with this tip best to know what things might push your buttons and there are thousands ranging from bad service to poor table manners to a weak handshake and more…

Tip 2: Know Your PET Emotion

The thing about Push Button Adversities is that they will stimulate our Primary Emotional Theory. This is the emotion that will tend to govern your thinking in times of adversity. Typically it is one of the four adverse emotions – Sadness, Anxiety, Frustration, Anger – we all tend to favour one; which one is it for you?

You can find this answer by reflecting on tough moments and think about after the initial experience which emotion dominated? Which was my end emotion? For you will often experience them all, but one is stronger and one is the way you tend to feel in the moment…

Mines anger, so watch out! But knowing yours is a powerful way to be able to manage the response when you are aware that a Push Button Adversity has (or is likely) to occur…

Tip 3: Understand Common Difficult Behaviour

The truth is as humans we are all sheep. So like many things in life we do follow others behaviours and then make them our own. Back in 1981 a clever guy by the name of Richard M. Bramson looked at all the various ways people express themselves in ‘difficult’ manners and grouped them into seven categories. In reading these categories it is always good to know two things (i) what is my expression; and (ii) how does that behaviour pus my buttons?

  1. The Sherman Tank: This is the person who has lots of huff and puff and storms around often very vocal and happy to let the world know they are not happy!

  2. The Exploder: This is the person who ‘tosses a tanty’ – they tend to rather suddenly just go off with lots of anger in the moment and can be rather nasty while exploding. This person often can carry lots of ‘grief’ but there is always “the straw that broke the camels back…”

  3. The Complainer: This is the person who always finds fault in everything. They often find other people to blame or can clearly point out failures in the system which is stopping them from being able to achieve. The challenge with this person is they are not problem solvers they are problem finders.

  4. The Clam: This is the person who contributes nothing to the situation. They tend to respond to most questions or invesitigative enquiry with a grunt – it’s like they got stuck in teenager mode and no one guided them back to the adult world. A big challenge with this person is that they are non-committal.

  5. The Wet Blanket: This is the killjoy of the room. They often have a quick snipe response to everything. They love to bring the excitement of new venture back to reality with terms like “it won’t work” or “we tried that it failed last time” or my favourite “too big, can’t be done” – the biggest challenge these people face is that they tend to see things always outside of their control.

  6. The Know-It-All: Never have an argument with this person, they know their facts, they know their stats, they know everything (or at least believe they do). Never over estimate with these people, they will challenge every point and fact – picking up on errors in your communication and focusing on those so that they feel smart.

  7. The Staller: This person is habitually indecisive because they have an overwhelming desire to be helpful and not disappoint people. They tend to take on too much and are very poor at reaching out for help when feeling overloaded.

So here is my suggestion when you next complain about how members of your team or people in your life are “getting your goat” (that's slang for annoying you)…

  • Know what emotion you are managing from;

  • Define what behaviour pattern they favour and work out a strategy to manage within that; and

  • Remember people will always push your buttons so be ready for it by knowing what some of those push button situations are for you!

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