3 ways to tackle difficult people
We all have to deal with difficult people sometimes, whether they’re colleagues, customers or family. More than likely, says personal development coach Mary Hartley, these difficult people will be bulldozers.
‘Bulldozers are people whose aggressive behaviour often intimidates you, the person you wish you could stand up to but feel you haven’t got the confidence or the know-how to deal with. People who behave in this punchy, aggressive way are out to get their own way regardless of what other people think, do or say. Think of the character Miranda Priestly in the film The Devil Wears Prada; powerful and ruthless, she subjects her young assistant to emotional and psychological bullying – she’s the ultimate difficult person.
These pushy, aggressive and difficult people expect to be able to force you into submission, and we have all let that happen to us. Sometimes we feel it would take too much effort to stand up to them and it wouldn’t get us anywhere, or we just feel a bit frightened or intimidated. And so we let them win and the template for future encounters is established.
At its worst extreme, this kind of behaviour is outright bullying. If this happens at work, you should first speak informally to a manager or supervisor. Keep a diary and copies of relevant incidents and communication. The next step, if necessary, would be to make a formal complaint.
In our personal lives, we can experience aggression through people’s sharp speech, low-key pushing or in-your-face-behaviour that results in our feeling flattened and got-at.
Here’s some tips for dealing with difficult people from Mary’s book, The Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting What You Want:
How to recognise if you are being bulldozed
See if any of the following apply to you:
- You are shouted at, or spoken to more forcefully than the situation warrants.
- You are the subject of putdowns and demeaning comments.
- You feel scared.
- You feel pushed into a corner so that you have to do what is being asked.
- You feel threatened.
- You feel that you are always in the wrong with someone.
- You feel humiliated.
- You feel that you are treated unfairly.
If you come across an aggressive, difficult bulldozer, try one of these three strategies. Be assertive, you are no longer going to be intimidated.
How to handle a bulldozer:
1. Tell the person you don’t like their behaviour
Describe the behaviour and say it is unacceptable. Don’t be too detailed about how it affects you but use a blanket phrase such as ‘I don’t like it.’
Someone raises his or her voice to intimidate you.
Raise your hand in a ‘Stop’ gesture and say, ‘Zoe, you’re shouting at me, and I don’t like it.’
Someone keeps on at you to sign up for a charity fun-run. You have already said no, but they are persisting.
Say something like, ‘You know, Di, I’ve already said no, and nothing has changed. Please stop asking me.’
If she says something like ‘Everyone else is doing it’or ‘We really need the support’, say, ‘That may be, but my answer is no.’
2. Ask the person to explain their words or behaviour
Returning the ball into the other person’s court is a great way of making them think about what they are doing or saying.
You say that you have changed your mind about a certain issue. Someone who you feel often has a go at you says, ‘That’s just typical of you.’
You ask, ‘I wonder what you mean by that, Alina?’
If Alina says ‘Nothing’, just add, ‘That’s all right then.’
If Alina says something like ‘You’re always changing your mind’, just ask, ‘Am I? Does that bother you?’
3. Deal with offensive jokes or comments
If you feel angry or uncomfortable with someone’s language or conversation, let them know. Don’t think that you have to laugh or pretend it is all right: if you do this, you are making yourself a victim.
Someone continually uses terminology that you find unacceptable.
You could try a light approach: shake your head and say something like ‘Not a great phrase, Harry. Try again.’
If nothing changes, be more direct: ‘You know what, Harry, I find your use of that word unacceptable. Please, stop using it.’
With these strategies, you can wrestle control away from the bulldozer, and converse in a civilized, adult way. But difficult people come in various guises, not just the pushy. You may be feeling frustrated by a Pushover, or manipulated by a Snake.
Mary Hartley shows you how to deal with these difficult people without losing friends and alienating them. In fact, her Smart Girl’s Guide to Getting What you Want shows you how to be assertive with wit, style and grace.
256 pages • Illustrated • £7.99
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