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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.

What My Father Taught Me About Communication

§ June 20th, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , § No Comments

My dad was an amazing man. He grew up in Southern Arkansas. His family had a farm and owned a general store. His father lost most of the family’s finances when a business he owned went under. Life was a bit more difficult from that point on and my dad had to drop out of college to help support the family.

Daddy grew up in a typical Southern family with the values that were common during those years. Family was important. Paying your bills and being honest were core values. So was a strong belief that there was a difference between the races. My grandparents would never have treated anyone so rudely, but there was a belief that the racial attitudes of the day were correct.

Somehow my father developed a very different attitude. He saw hard working black sharecropping families and did not see a difference between them and their white counterparts. He entered the Navy during World War II and then the Air Force Civil Service afterward. He met people from all walks of life and developed a belief that all people were similar, decent and worthy of respect.

That belief was the cornerstone of my father’s life. He never met a stranger. He never believed that people were anything more than ill-informed. He never demonized the people he disagreed with.

For a long time, I thought my father was naive. He found it difficult to see that people were actually mean, or hard-hearted, or selfish. As I have gotten older, I’ve realized that my father chose to believe the best of people, at least until he had evidence to the contrary.

I once read this quotation (I believe it is from Cicero): A man without malice is incapable of seeing malice in others. That quotation sums up my father.

The lesson I learned from my father’s life is not that it is of benefit to be naive, but that when two people want to communicate, it is best that they assume that each is coming from an honorable perspective. Although we may disagree on particular points, if we start with mutual respect and a strong belief that we each want the best for all involved, we have a chance at communicating. If, as we get deeper into the conversation, we have evidence that the other is not coming from this positive position, we can take another tack. But we need to start from this point. Otherwise, we will miss the opportunity to communicate with most people with whom we disagree.

Happy Father’s Day, Daddy! Thank you for your thoughtful and intelligent example. I miss you.

Private Communication

§ June 8th, 2010 § Filed under communication, training § Tagged , , , , , , , , § No Comments

Most of the time my business deals with communication that is designed to be for the public. Whether I’m teaching interpersonal communication skills or business writing, or writing keyword rich text for a website, I’m focused on making sure that the audience receives the message. I was a witness to a situation the other day that made me realize there needs to be training for communication that should not be open to the public.

I was at one of my favorite sandwich shops the other day, waiting for a to-go order. (Why I never think to call ahead is beyond me!) As I was waiting, watching the employees take and ring up orders, put together boxes, call out names, and deliver to customers, I heard a loud voice in a conversation. I looked up and realized that a man was sitting on the other side of the to-go waiting area. He was on his cell phone, carrying on a conversation.

I would prefer not to have to listen to other people’s conversations, but in a situation like this, waiting for a to-go order, I normally don’t have a problem with people using their cell phones while they are waiting. But the parts of the conversation that I couldn’t help but hear went something like this:

“Well, that’s just unacceptable.”

“No, don’t worry. I’ll handle it.”

“We’ll have to sit him down and discuss this with him.”

It sounded like someone was in trouble. It wouldn’t have been a big deal that I was hearing this conversation, but as I got my order and walked toward the door, I realized that the man I had been listening to was the manager of the sandwich shop and if I could hear this conversation, so could his employees.

From just the little bit of conversation I overheard, the man might have been talking to his wife about his son. Or he might have been talking to someone about one of his employees. I don’t know.

Aren’t there times when conversations should be private? The traditional advice has always been to praise in public, and criticize in private. Maybe we need to extend that advice to our conversations on cell phones as well.

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