This is the fifth article in a series of articles about difficult people.
Q: What are the control tactics of difficult people?
A: In his book, “How to Successfully Handle Aggressive, Intimidating and Controlling People,” Preston Ni, M.S.B.A., lists controlling tactics people use to maneuver other people into inferior positions. Not everyone who tries to control others is deliberately doing so. Some people have simply learned poor habits. However, recognizing these behaviors is important in instances in which one’s rights, interests, or safety are at risk.
An initial maneuver might be the controlling person insisting on meeting somewhere that he or she can exert more dominance and control. Examples are the aggressor’s home, office or other places in which that person feels comfortable and familiar and the other person does not. An additional control tactic of an aggressor is to control the length of a meeting, making it long enough to wear the other person down or short enough to cut the other person off prematurely.
Making a person wait is a familiar tactic and a classic power play. When someone makes a person wait, the message is clear. The person making someone wait is sending the message his/her time is more important and therefore he/she is more important.
Another favorite method to convey control is the difference in how the furniture is arranged. When entering an office in which the controlling person sits in a large, executive chair and the visitor sits in a smaller and less comfortable seat, there is a clear differential in power in the furniture provided. Another demeaning tactic is not to provide the guest with any place to set that person’s laptop, papers, and pen, whereas the controlling person has lots of desktop space. Sometimes a desk or table can also be used to create a barrier of physical, psychological or emotional distance.
A fourth tactic is for a speaker to call on someone by name and thereby put pressure on that person in the audience to answer a question. When a speaker names someone whom the speaker designates to answer, that person named feels more pressure to volunteer an answer.
Intimidation by numbers occurs when an aggressor has a group of friends or associates in attendance to support the aggressor’s position. The number of persons might be intimidating. During a proceeding, these persons either can back each other or challenge the less aggressive person repeatedly or both. Such group maneuvers can pressure a person to make a decision hastily, such as when making purchases. Perhaps the worst application of strength in numbers is that of bullying or harassment.
The use of formality to make someone uncomfortable and defensive is effective, particularly in situations in which informality is the expected norm. This formality can be addressed by making the physical environment, dress attire, speech, and proceeding uncomfortably formal. This use of formality by the aggressor is to impress and intimidate the other person, in order to gain concessions and advantages.
Bureaucracy consists of procedures and red tape. It also means paperwork, laws, by-laws and other measures predicated to help those in power maintain their positions. A proliferation of paperwork can delay fact finding, hide weaknesses, and prevent scrutiny.
Aggressive people can use their physical size or height to violate another person’s physical space. Physical intimidation can be achieved by standing or sitting too close or by towering over a shorter person. The object of these techniques is to establish a sense of superiority and psychological control.
An aggressive person has several other techniques to use for intimidation. Aggressors can raise their voices during conversations and discussions, hoping that their loudness will coerce others into giving them what they want. Frequently aggressors combine strong body language with loudness, and use standing up or exaggerated gestures to increase the impact of their tactics.
A classic power play is to pretend to lose patience and threaten to walk out. The object of these tactics is to pressure the other person into conforming and giving in. The more emotionally invested the recipient of the aggression is to the issue under consideration, the more likely this type of intimidation will succeed.
Negative humor geared toward making fun of someone’s weaknesses is for the purpose of disempowerment. Some aggressors make critical comments disguised as humor, the object of which is to make the other person feel inferior and insecure. Examples of the subjects of critical comments include one’s appearance, an outdated phone model, one’s background, or one’s credentials. By making someone feel bad or look bad or both, an aggressor intends to establish psychological superiority.
Next week’s article will continue with control tactics of difficult people and then begin a discussion of how to control aggressive and dominating people.
Judy Caprez is professor emeritus at Fort Hays State University.