23 Jun 2016

3 tips for dealing with difficult behaviour

  • You’ve just received an email from a colleague essentially ‘ordering’ you to do something that is DEFINITELY NOT your job. You are seething.
  • A Director has come to you complaining about the way a member of your team behaved at a recent meeting (you were also there). She is furious and you can’t get a word in edgeways.
  • Your boss said he’d attend a meeting with you and an external contact. He arrives 20 minutes late, with no apology and makes it clear from his body language that he has a thousand more important things to do than waste his time with this nonsense.

In scenario 1, you might be tempted to send an email right back, or march through the open plan office to their desk and tell them exactly what you think of their request. Or you may choose to ‘blurt’ over everyone in your vicinity about the outrageously cheeky nature of the request. Please don’t do either.

In scenario 2, you might want to make yourself heard, and continually interrupt. You feel defensive and wish to make it clear that her criticisms are unfounded. Please stop right there.

In scenario 3, your body language makes it obvious that you think the meeting needs to be cut short, that you’re embarrassed and feel intimidated by your boss’s mood. Please rethink this approach.

There are 3 key tips that will work in each one of these scenarios;

  1. Hold on to your ‘power’. Whenever we have a strong emotional reaction to how another person behaves, our ego is engaged. That creates a power battle – which has already been lost by you if you’ve allowed your emotional state to be hijacked. You are less able to think clearly and articulately in that agitated state. A key way of holding on to your power is to think differently about the behaviour that you’re facing. Try to become genuinely curious about why this person may have chosen to communicate or behave in this way. Notice that you are making up a story about their motives – and it’s just a story. You cannot know the real motivation until you ask them.
  2. Engage compassionate or empathetic thinking. There are no doubt times when (even) you’ve done or said something unwise; we all have. And there were good reasons that caused us to do that – or at least, we thought so at the time. What you’re experiencing now is an example of someone who could be behaving more reasonably – but they’re stuck in their thinking about the situation and that’s creating an emotional reaction that’s producing their behaviour. Try to focus on a compassionate thought about them – they may have had a dreadful day, they may have fallen out with their spouse, or be depressed about something. We don’t know the back-story of most of the people we work with – and so let’s be less harsh in our judgment of them and try to engage our compassionate thinking.
  3. Give them room to talk, and listen actively. This involves asking open questions to get a full understanding of how they see things and why. It also helps them feel like you’re interested and genuinely seeking to understand (which you are – it needs to be sincere!). It also allows them to blow off steam, if they need to. That will improve the chances of them engaging fully with you, and you being able to influence a solution that works for you both.

Do you have any examples of when you’ve jumped right in – and later wished you’d applied one of these 3 key tips?