This is the seventh in a series of articles about difficult people.
Q: What are additional tactics for handling unreasonable and aggressive individuals?
A: Using humor appropriately and effectively is an excellent tool. Humor can expose the truth, disarm someone’s difficult behavior and demonstrate a person’s superior composure. Humor works to assist in conflict resolution and to reduce or eliminate unreasonable behavior. Humor can reduce tension by using laughter to dispel intense feelings.
The next tactic to deal with aggressive, difficult people who take the lead in conversation is to change one’s position from following to leading. That technique is a way to wrest the lead from an unreasonable person who sets a negative tone and repeats complaints again and again. A person can interrupt a difficult person by changing the topic to one that the person who interrupts can lead. Questions also work well to redirect conversations. An individual needs to be sure he or she does not, in turn, become an aggressive and dominating leader in the conversation.
The next type of aggressive, unreasonable person is the bully. Bullies pick on those individuals whom they perceive as weak. When a person remains passive and compliant, that person makes a target of himself or herself. Actually, many people who are bullies are cowards underneath. If victims begin to stand up for themselves, bullies often will back down. This dynamic holds up on school playgrounds, in domestic situations and in offices.
Often bullies have been victims of violence themselves. But that fact does not necessarily make them any easier to like or accept. However, knowing bullies have histories of abuse might enable someone to feel some empathy for a bully.
In confronting bullies, concern needs to be given to one’s safety. One way to protect oneself is to have others present to observe and provide support. A second way to counteract bullies is to keep paper records of their inappropriate behavior. Finally, with verbal, emotional or physical abuse, an individual should consider consultation with legal, law enforcement, counseling or administrative professionals.
Identifying and presenting consequences is an effective way to get aggressive people to back down. The use of consequences invoked to challenge an aggressor can shift the behavior from obstruction to cooperation. This tactic requires a person to have excellent communication skills. The above four types of aggressors and strategies are from Preston Ni.
Returning to tactics to deal with difficult aggressors presented by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner, the first difficult type is the Tank. That person is pushy, angry, confrontational and aggressive. The plan for dealing with a Tank is to hold one’s position and maintain eye contact, then repeat the person’s name until that person stops talking. Quickly returning to the Tank’s attack, one can state the bottom line, prefacing one’s statement with a statement owning one’s position, such as: “the way I see things” or “from my viewpoint.” This non-confrontational approach should not restart an attack. The key tactics are to stay assertive, maintain control, anticipate the Tank’s main attacks, and keep one’s self-respect.
Another aggressive difficult person named by Brinkman and Kirschner is the Know-It-All. The name says it all. First in dealing with the Know-It-All is to be well-prepared and know the facts. If the Know-It-All has doubts regarding a person’s idea, that person needs to identify the reasons to support the idea, and demonstrate how one’s idea takes the Know-It-All’s criteria into account. The person dealing with the aggressor needs to soften the approach by using “we” or “us” instead of “I” and by presenting views using words such as “perhaps,” “maybe” or “bear with me for a minute.”
Turning the Know-It-All into a mentor is a tactic that lets the person know one acknowledges him or her as an expert from whom one can learn. Key points are to maintain objectivity, consider whether or not the struggle is worthwhile, and use the Know-It-All as a mentor from whom you can learn. Thus, there is a secondary pay-off in learning from the Know-It-All.
The next type of unreasonable, aggressive person is the Grenade. Brinkman and Kirschner describe this person as the one who follows a brief period of calm with an unfocused burst of ranting and raving that is totally unrelated to the situation at hand. In visualizing how to curtail the Grenade, the object is to stop the explosion by intervening before the Grenade pulls the pin.
First, get the attention of the Grenade when that person is losing control, as evidenced by a loud voice and exaggerated gestures. Then one needs to show concern and listen for the reason for the explosion. If a person is on target with the Grenade’s problem, the Grenade will calm down. An individual trying to cope with the Grenade should postpone any discussion until the explosion is well past.
If someone can figure out what initiates an explosion from a Grenade, and has a good relationship with the aggressor, the person can ask the Grenade what triggers the explosions. Key tactics are to stay objective, find some way to establish rapport and assess the root cause behind the explosions.
• Next week’s article will begin a discussion of strategies for dealing with difficult family members.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.