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Dealing with the Demanders

§ July 5th, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , § No Comments

“If you don’t like something, change it. If you can’t change it, change your attitude.” – Maya Angelou

At the beginning of the year, I asked you for the communication problems you face. One of my readers explained her biggest issue:

What drives me crazy? — Overly demanding and loud people (the ME, ME. ME group) who “muscle” and steam-roll over others with verbal, and sometimes even physical, intimidation.

I can certainly relate to this concern. I think all of us have coworkers, clients, friends, or family members who act this way.

Ask yourself if this demanding person is always like this. Or is this a one-time occurrence that may have been caused by a particular situation that caused the person to act out of character? I know I have had my own moments of being verbally intimidating, and have regretted it afterward (see my September 2007 issue.) If the outburst is out of character, give the person the benefit of the doubt. Know that all of us have our moments that usually have nothing to do with the people we are with, but more to do with our own feelings of vulnerability or fear.

You can’t change them.

If this aggressive attitude is a consistent behavior, I have some advice. The only person you can change is yourself.  There is no way to change the “overly demanding and loud people.”  But you can change the way you react to the intimidation.

If you find that you are unable to adjust to these people, find ways to avoid them. I have a quick solution if the person is a client or a friend. Drop them. I have eliminated people from my life and from my business if they have a tendency to yell or verbally abuse me. I don’t need mean friends or difficult clients.

I had a recent situation with a woman who works for one of my clients. She needed to check with me to make some changes to a project that the client and I had worked on. Instead of creating some sort of rapport first, she went into a demanding attitude – on my voice mail. I called back and asked questions, ignoring the rudeness. She had misinterpreted something my client had told her, and assumed that I had not done what was asked.  I was firm in correcting the misunderstanding, but had to hold back my immediate reaction to be defensive and antagonistic myself. I calmly suggested that we get the client on the phone as well. She is still snippy with me, but I refuse to react to it. If her attitude continues, I will discuss the problem directly with the client, and if there is no change, I will suggest that the client go elsewhere for service.

Family and coworkers are more difficult.

If the person is a coworker or a family member, the solution is a bit more difficult. Continue to remind yourself that the person’s behavior is probably not directed at you personally.  As with the passive-aggressive types we discussed in April, the people who find it necessary to be pushy usually have issues they are dealing with. You don’t need to be a psychologist to know that you are not responsible for other people’s personal issues.

Confront the behavior.

My favorite way of opening up the conversation is to call the person on his or her attitude, gently. “I can sense that you are upset. What can I do to alleviate your concern?” or “I may be able to resolve this problem if you can provide me with the details of what you think is wrong.”

You may also be able to accomplish some success by confronting the person when he or she is not being intimidating. Many counselors suggest that you describe the issue in terms of your own feelings, “When you talk to me the way you did yesterday at the meeting, I feel defensive.” I have not found that approach particularly helpful. I find ignoring the behavior or looking at the person as if he or she is acting like a fool much more effective. I also have been known to make eye contact with the person and say simply and very calmly, “I will not discuss this matter until you stop yelling.” Then I walk away. I do not allow additional discussion until the person has calmed down.

Visualize a positive outcome.

The other technique I have used successfully is to visualize an encounter with the person in detail. Then I control the visualization so that I see myself talking calmly to the person, and the person calming down and becoming more reasonable. I’m not sure why this works so well, but I imagine that it rehearses me enough, so that I do not react badly and exacerbate the situation.

The aggressive and abusive types anticipate that you will either fight back or roll over. Do neither. Calmly state your response and react to the comments, not the personal attack. Let the person know that the abusive behavior is not productive.

Remember that you always have control over your own reactions. And often, when you step away from the conflict, it immediately subsides.

If you have communication issues you would like me to address, post a comment here, use the contact page, or email me directly.

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