Ask 10 people to define a nasty and difficult person and you will get 10 different definitions. There are many types of difficult people. Do you get frustrated and don’t know what to do with whiners, braggarts, negativity, passive aggressive behavior, or people who are on emotional roller coasters?
Everyone encounters difficult and nasty people, but it’s how you deal with them that makes the difference. Ignoring these problem behaviors will only make things worse. On August 22 ASPE instructor, Kelley Bruns, presented the free web seminar, “The Top 10 Ways to Deal with Nasty & Difficult People.” In this one-hour presentation, Kelley not only covered the top 10 ways to deal with these kinds of people, but how to bring out the best in them.
You can listen to a complete recording of this presentation at aspeevents.webex.com. Select “View Event Recordings” in the top right corner. You can also download the slides from this presentation by visiting our Web Seminar Archives.
Q&A from Seminar
Q. Kelley answered question about teleconferences, what about emails?
A. I would not recommend using email as a way to communicate with difficult or nasty people – it’s too risky. Emails are not the first choice you should consider because email tone can be misinterpreted. When dealing with difficult people, nasty people, or difficult situations the best choice is to handle them in person, your second choice would be to handle the situation by telephone. It’s important when reading emails to be careful about having assumptions that the other person is being mean or nasty. When in doubt, ask for clarification.
Q. Can we learn the tools and techniques of nastiness so we can know the enemy and turn the tables?
A. I think it is valuable to understand the signs and triggers that someone is going to be mean or nasty, but I would not recommend turning the tables on them. This results in stooping to their level, and that is what they want. They want to upset you and when they succeed in upsetting you, they have won. When we respond to difficult or nasty behavior with the same behavior, it is similar to throwing gasoline on a fire – it will only escalate the situation and it will make things worse. It’s helpful to know the signs of nastiness and difficult behavior, but responding in the same way will not resolve the situation.
Q. What is the best way to deal with someone who is passive-aggressive and/or someone who will not address issues with you directly?
A. My advice is to not be aggressive, or confront passive-aggressive types of people when they are upset. With chronic nasty or difficult people there could be underlying psychological issues that require professional help. Some people appear to be passive-aggressive, but really they are not – instead they are what I call conflict avoiders. In those types of situations it is helpful to meet with the person and ask for their help with your observations or state something to the effect, “let’s take care of the problem.” With conflict avoiders, if you let the problem go on, it will fester, get worse, and has the potential to create an emotional outburst. The quicker you can take care of problems by determining the root cause(s), the better off everyone will be.
Q. What is the best thing to do when someone is constantly condescending to you in front of other people?
A. Two of the strategies we reviewed during the web seminar are helpful in these instances – revisit and meet. The revisit strategy is where you ask them to repeat their condescending comment. Often times when the person repeats the comment, they will soften the tone of it. If they don’t, then you know exactly what you are dealing with. If this takes place in a team atmosphere then ground rules of behavior can be an effective way of calling people on their conduct. Ground rules created by the team encourage accountability. When a person violates a ground rule, attention needs to be called to the inappropriate conduct. If a situation cannot be effectively dealt with using the revisit strategy, then it is time to meet with them, preferably meeting in person whenever possible. Some people are not aware they are being condescending and when it’s brought to their attention they will apologize. Some people are fully aware they are being condescending and when you let them know you will not tolerate that kind of behavior, you can document the conversation in case an escalation process becomes necessary.
Q. How do you call out what’s going on when you know it just may not be the right thing to do and it may make it worse, even reporting it to HR?
A. My father was a master at being nice to difficult or nasty people. That strategy always caught people by surprise and they would quit their behavior every time. It can be very difficult for us to be “nice” to others when they are not being nice to us. So, if being nice doesn’t work or none of the tactics we reviewed in the web seminar create the results you want, and you have to work or live with this person than it may be time to involve a third party – which could include discussing the situation with your boss, involving a mediator, including Human Resources, etc.
Q. Kelley mentioned in response to a toxic work environment that sometimes it is best to “call out” the difficult & nasty people by asking them directly. Is it really likely that these “types” of people are going to answer this question honestly (or at all)?
A. In instances where the person is not a chronic offender, it will work if that person is honest with themself and examine their behavior. That may not happen immediately, but as they reflect on their conduct they may come to the realization that they were behaving inappropriately, apologize to you, and be less apt to repeat that behavior. In instances where you’re dealing with chronic nasty or difficult people it more than likely will not work. At that point you have to determine can you live with this kind of situation – especially if that person is your superior. You will need to make a decision – stay, leave, request a transfer, etc. Realize if you stay in a toxic environment, your self-esteem and your health will eventually be impacted.
Q. How can you be effective in dealing with a severe senior micromanager?
A. Micromanaging is a difficult behavior that is extremely complicated. First I seek to understand why the person is micromanaging – for example, not trusting anyone because of being hurt in the past, lack of leadership training and not understanding how to lead others effectively, etc. Once you understand the root cause of the behavior then you can deal with it. For example for the person who has does not understand how to lead you can use managing upward tactics to help them understand how you prefer to work by letting them know you need your space and if you have questions you will be sure to check in with them. For the person who cannot trust others ask them if you have ever let them down in the past. If they say yes, be prepared to understand why they are micromanaging you. If they say no, ask them to trust that you will continue to deliver exemplary work performance for them and to feel free to check in with you during pre-agreed timeframes. Effective leaders ask their direct reports how they prefer to be managed, if they do not ask for your preferences then share them with your leader. Be prepared however that some people are not open to this kind of feedback.
Q. You said don’t let yourself be a victim but also said don’t be defensive. How can both be done?
A. By choosing how you respond and being emotionally intelligent. The key is to be offensive – stand your ground by stating feelings or facts in a calm, collected, professional manner. You have control over three things – your thoughts, your words, and your actions – so it is important for you to control what you can, not what you cannot. Becoming defensive will cause the conflict to escalate. Saying nothing signals to the person that it is okay to walk all over you. It’s important for you to maintain your self-esteem when dealing with difficult or nasty people.