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Dealing with People You Can't StandHow to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst
By Rick Brinkman Rick Kirschner
McGraw-HillCopyright © 2002 Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner
All right reserved.
Chapter OneThe 10 Most Unwanted List
There exist varying degrees of knowledge and ignorance in your repertoire of communication skills, with their consequent interpersonal strengths and weaknesses. As a result, you may have no trouble at all dealing with that overly or nonemotional person who no one else can stand. You may have more difficulty with people who whine and are negative, or you may find dealing with aggressive people to be the most challenging. Passive people may frustrate you, or you may have a low tolerance for braggarts and blowhards. Likewise, you probably frustrate several people yourself, because everybody is somebody's difficult person at least some of the time.
You may agree or disagree with this or that person about who's the difficult person and who is not. Nevertheless, there is a certain consensus in polite society about who difficult people are and what it is they do that others find difficult. We've identified 10 specific behavior patterns sane people resort to when they feel threatened or thwarted that represent their struggle with or withdrawal from undesired circumstances. Here are 10 difficult behaviors that represent normal people at their worst!
It was a beautiful day. The sky was clear, and Jim could hear birds singing outside his window. He was moving forward on the project and the office was humming with activity and teamwork.
Suddenly, there was a familiar and inescapable sound!
It reminded Jim of the sound of tank treads rumbling down the hallway. It seemed as though the ground actually began to tremble, and Jim could almost hear the distant ping of radar being activated. As Jim listened, Joe "The Tank" Bintner rounded the corner and came into view. Raising his arm like a turret mounted cannon, he pointed in Jim's direction. Somehow, Jim could sense the crosshairs locking on to a target ... himself! In desperation, he mentally waved a white flag, but the Tank continued moving in his direction. As he stared in shock at the cannon like finger now pointed at his face, Bintner unleashed a verbal blasting of accusation and scorn.
"... You're an idiot, a moron, you're completely incompetent and an embarrassment to the human race! You must be a genetic mistake. You've been working on this for two weeks and you're already three weeks behind. I won't listen to any more of your excuses. Pay attention, because this is what you are going to do ..."
Out of the corner of his eye, Jim could see that everyone else in the office had either run for cover or stood frozen, paralyzed with fear. Like the sound of distant thunder, Bintner barked out his orders. Then, as suddenly as it began, the determined assault ended. Bintner was moving off in a new direction, and Jim was left sitting amid the rubble of his best efforts and good intentions.
The Tank is confrontational, pointed, and angry, the ultimate in pushy and aggressive behavior.
Sue had never worked harder to prepare a report. This was the big day, and if she could deliver it in a professional and polished manner, there was a good chance she would be rewarded with a promotion. All eyes were on her as she began her presentation. She knew all her numbers would fit into place, and she could sense that victory was just around the corner.
Then, as she made her move to the bottom line, there was a stirring like the rustling of leaves, and she saw a slight movement off to the side of the room. That's when she heard the shot:
"Hey," said an insistent, scoffing voice, "that idea of yours reminds me of something I saw in a book. I think it was in Chapter 11!"
First a solitary, diabolical laugh filled the room, but then one uneasy chuckle after another joined it. Sue's mind wandered, her concentration broken, the point she was about to make lost. "Huh?" she mumbled awkwardly, as she looked around for the source of the disruption. And there, grinning like a Cheshire cat was the Sniper, preparing to take another shot.
"Maybe it was Chapter 13? Ha ha. Don't mind me. Please go on. I'm just beginning to understand how little you actually know about this subject."
Whether through rude comments, biting sarcasm, or a well-timed roll of the eyes, making you look foolish is the Sniper's specialty.
It had been a good day for getting work done. A pleasant breeze drifted lazily through the window as Ralph double-checked the numbers before him. That's when Bob walked into the room, his face a rigid mask, hands balled into fists. Ralph could sense that something was wrong, but a second glance at Bob's close-lipped expression prompted him to mind his own business. Bob passed Ralph's desk, and as he did, he brushed against a stack of papers perched precariously on the desktop. The papers tumbled to the ground like so many autumn leaves drifting in the breeze. Ralph didn't mean to say anything, but in spite of himself, a tiny voice escaped his throat, "Careful, there, Bob!"
In a timeless moment, Bob whirled about, eyes widening, facial muscles twitching, hair standing on end, arms trembling, as his voice exploded:
"Why don't you watch where you put that %#@*& stuff, anyway #@!&?*!!@! How the *&!? was I supposed to know that was there!? I don't know why I even bother to show up here! Nobody cares what I'm going through! That's the *&Λ!@ problem with the world today! Nobody gives a &%* ..."
As the volume of Bob's voice escalated, the breeze seemed to became a violent wind with scraps of ideas whipping about in a flurry of epithets and emotional shrapnel. It seemed like forever, but at long last Bob's anger began to subside. He stopped yelling, looked around at everyone staring at him, and stormed out the door without another word, slamming the door behind him. A lone sheet of paper drifted lazily to the floor.
After a brief period of calm, the Grenade explodes into unfocused ranting and raving about things that have nothing to do with the present circumstances.
"Hello. This is XYZ Tech support. My name is Frank. How may I help you?" Frank answered.
The customer began to explain. "My name is Thadeus Davis, I am the MIS director at my company, and I have worked with hundreds of hard drives." Davis went on to describe the problem, concluding, "There is clearly something wrong with your product."
"Well, Mr. Davis, I am very familiar with this product. What you have described does not sound to me like it's mechanical, but it does sound like a software conflict. Could you tell me which extensions you have loaded?"
"It is not a software conflict."
"Sir, that's what I am trying to determine. How do you know it isn't a software conflict?"
"Aren't you listening? It is not a software conflict. The problem is with your product!"
Frank tried another question. "Did it generate a sense key condition? Do you recall what it said?" Davis didn't remember, and impatiently repeated that the product was at fault. Frank tried again. "Sir, have you tried the drive with another computer?"
Davis retorted, "We know it is not a problem with the computer because we can put any other drive on the computer. Let me speak to your supervisor!"
Seldom in doubt, the Know-It-All has a low tolerance for correction and contradiction. If something goes wrong, however, the Know-It-All will speak with the same authority about who's to blame—you!
Dena didn't plan on it happening this way. She had the most expertise on the investment committee, and she'd poured her heart and soul into the research. She really believed she was finally going to show what she was capable of doing. She forgot to consider the possibility that Leo might interfere. Like a bad dream come true, Leo was dominating the meeting. He was making claims about the performance of various funds that were pure hokum. No one else seemed to realize what he was doing! He had completely taken the group's attention away with the conviction of his communication. And once Leo had the floor, there was no stopping him.
"Leo," she pleaded. "Those funds are ... well, when you look at their track record ..." she struggled with the information, not knowing how to stop this before it was too late.
"You got a question about that, or anything else, just ask!" Leo proclaimed without missing a beat, then turned back to his spellbound audience. "I know exactly what we need. Of course, for me, picking the right investments is a piece of cake! Yeah, no sweat! In fact, I kind of enjoy it! That's an ability I have, you know. Plus, I have followed these funds for years. Great track record! Trust me!"
Great track record? From what he was saying, it was obvious to Dena that he knew nothing about those funds. It was equally obvious to her that she had no idea how to stop him. Her heart sank as she looked around the room and watched helplessly, as one by one, people were swayed by Leo's sureness and enthusiasm. How could they know that he didn't know what he was talking about, when Dena was the one who'd done the research?
Think-They-Know-It-Alls can't fool all the people all of the time, but they can fool some of the people enough of the time, and enough of the people all of the time—all for the sake of getting some attention.
The Yes Person
Alice was just about the nicest person you could ever meet. So nice that she just couldn't say no. So she didn't. Instead, she said yes to everyone and everything, and sincerely hoped that this would make everybody happy.
"Would you do me a favor?" asked Tom.
"Sure!" Alice would say.
"Drop this off for me, would you?" requested Mark.
"No problem!" was Alice's reply.
"Could you remind me to return this call?" begged Ellen.
"Alright!" Alice answered cheerfully.
"Finish this up before you leave, okay?" said the boss.
"My pleasure!" was Alice's immediate response, but more often than not, Alice didn't remind Ellen, didn't do Tom the favor, didn't drop off Mark's package, and didn't finish the work her boss requested. She could always offer excuses and explanations for failing to do what she'd said she'd do, and yet, to her surprise, that just wasn't good enough.
When promises aren't kept, people get upset, and upset people become confrontational. Mark, Tom, Ellen, and the boss all confronted Alice, each in his or her own way. They assessed her problem and offered solutions, to which Alice always agreed because she wanted to avoid confrontation at any cost. Still pleasant on the outside, she was soon seething with silent hostility on the inside, and decided that she had no intention of ever doing what she promised for these nasty people.
In an effort to please people and avoid confrontation, Yes People say "yes" without thinking things through. They react to the latest demands on their time by forgetting prior commitments, and overcommit until they have no time for themselves. Then they become resentful.
The Maybe Person
Marv found himself up against a deadline that required a decision from Sue. Sue knew that the moment of decision was at hand, yet strangely, she was nowhere to be found. After a prolonged search of every hall and stairwell, he caught up with her at last. "I don't have time to talk, Marv. I'm really sorry." She tried to rush off, but Marv hustled to keep up with her, and pressed his case.
"So, have you decided who we will be sending to the convention in Hawaii?" asked Marv urgently.
"Well, ... I'm still thinking about it," was Sue's tentative reply.
"Still thinking about it!?" Marv had to accelerate, as Sue was pulling away rapidly.
"Sue, the convention is in just three weeks. I asked you to choose somebody six months ago. This is the biggest event of the year and we always send our best sales rep."
"Well ... I know, but ... I guess I'll decide ..."
Marv, breathing rapidly, hustled to keep up. "You guess? When?"
Sue stopped walking. "I don't know. Soon." She looked down at the floor absently for a moment, then spun around and headed back the way they'd come. Marv stood there, looking after her, astonished and breathing rapidly. There was no doubt in his mind that this decision would be put off until it was too late to act.
In a moment of decision, the Maybe Person procrastinates in the hope that a better choice will present itself. Sadly, with most decisions, there comes a point when it is too little, too late, and the decision makes itself.
The Nothing Person
If Nat had anything to say for himself, Sally would never know. His ability to sit and stare was unnerving, to say the least. The longer they were married the less he would say. These days, it seemed to Sally that she did all the talking. There could be worse problems, of course. At least Nat wasn't a bully, and he never talked unkindly about people. But then again, he hardly ever talked. Maybe a bit of gossip would be an improvement over the sound of silence. Sally thought she'd give it try. "So, uh, Nat, what do you think about the president's work?" Nat didn't seem to hear her. He just shrugged and kept reading the paper. Sally tried again. "Nat? So, uh, do you like him?"
The movement of his eyes upward to meet hers was almost imperceptible. Looking into his eyes was like looking into a vacant room. It appeared that nobody was home. "I ... don't ... know." That's all he said, and then he lowered his eyes in that same nondescript manner, and began reading again.
Sally couldn't stop herself from pursuing this, now that she had begun it. After all, they had been married for over 17 years. She felt as if the distance between them was miles instead of feet, and that it was her responsibility to build a bridge between them. So she tried again. "Nat, uh, it seems like we never talk. You never tell me you love me anymore. Do you still love me?"
Nat gave her that same look, then slowly turned his head until he was facing the window. He put the paper down, and simply said, "Nothing is going on. I told you 17 years ago I love you. If something changes I will let you know." And that was that. He picked up his paper and went back to reading, and Sally's hopes drifted off into the void.
No verbal feedback, no nonverbal feedback. Nothing. What else could you expect from ... the Nothing Person.
The No Person
Jack had just completed the third quarter of his seminar presentation when a woman in the back raised her hand. "Yes ma'am? You in the back. Do you have a question?"
She gazed at him through narrowed eyes. "That won't work," she said finally.
"Have you ever tried it?" He asked, unsure what they were talking about.
"What would be the point of trying it if it doesn't work?" Whatever it was, it seemed obvious to her.
"How do you know it doesn't work?" he tried again.
"Obvious to whom?" Jack asked. Desperation seized him and wouldn't let go.
"To any intelligent person capable of thinking it through." Her determination was remarkable.
"Well, it's not obvious to me!" said Jack, believing he had gained the upper hand.
"Well now, what's that say about you?" She replied triumphantly.
More deadly to morale than a speeding bullet, more powerful than hope, able to defeat big ideas with a single syllable. Disguised as a mild mannered normal person, the No Person fights a never ending battle for futility, hopelessness, and despair.
Just as Joann was regaining her concentration, Cynthia began whining again. This was the 112th time she had been interrupted by Cynthia and it wasn't even noon. To make matters worse, Cynthia's voice dragged on and on, and it had the resonance of a chain saw. "Did I tell you that I just brought my new charcoal grill home after saving up for it for the last year and a half? It was very heavy, and I had a great deal of trouble getting it out of the car. My husband offered to help me, but he has a bad back, and I didn't think that it was a good idea, so I wouldn't let him. But the box was an awkward size. Not only that, but it's very difficult to move a box when it doesn't fit your arms. But I tried. Finally, after I'd bruised myself in several places, I got out a wheelbarrow ..."
"Cynthia," Joann implored, "If you didn't have any other way to get it out of your car, why didn't you wait until a time when you had help before picking it up at the store?"
Excerpted from Dealing with People You Can't Stand by Rick Brinkman Rick Kirschner Copyright © 2002 by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner. Excerpted by permission of McGraw-Hill. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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