Communicating with Difficult People

Review: What are your “buttons” and why are they important?

Often, the best way to deal with a difficult person is to say goodbye; however, at times the difficult person is our boss or mother in law.

The following is taken from Robert Bramson’s Dealing with Difficult People, and should help you train the difficult people around you to stop performing the difficult behavior with you.  (They will likely continue doing it with other people.)

These won’t work every time or on everyone, but hopefully, they will increase your success rate at dealing with these situations.

  1. Sherman Tanks – run over people – don’t fight but don’t back down. Sherman Tanks live to fight. They tie or win–they rarely give up or “lose.” The key to this strategy is to not engage. Leave instead. If your father-in-law tries to “Sherman Tank” you into something, don’t argue. Make an excuse, it could be a stomach ache or a forgotten appointment, and leave. Sherman Tanks learn that their strategy doesn’t work on you.  They still do it to other people.
  2. Snipers – hurl sarcastic comments – paraphrase the true intent of the sarcastic comment. Sarcasm – saying the opposite of what you mean to show contempt. If your friend drops the ball and loses the game, “Great play Steve,” would be sarcastic. Rather than silently accepting the insult or getting angry and arguing, paraphrase the true intent. Say “I know you’re saying that I blew the play and I blew the game. I’m working really hard on getting better.” You have to turn your buttons off to do this, and if you can, it’s likely to make the person who was sarcastic feel small.  After several times this trains him or her to stop being sarcastic with you.
  3. Exploders – explode – give them time and space to wind down and take what they say very seriously. Paraphrase. Calmly summarize what they said when they were exploding (nicely with the intent of understanding). This trains them that you will hold them to what they say, and they will learn to avoid exploding in front of you.
  4. Complainers/ Negativists – complain about everything all the time – don’t complain with them – force them to a solution. This is fun, but you have to follow the instructions closely, and it won’t apply to every situation. Let’s say Bill is complaining about scheduling at work. Bring the boss to him, outline his complaints to the boss, and ask them to work it out together.  Bill will be mortified, and he will be upset with you, but he will stop complaining in front of you.
  5. Clams – won’t respond – ask an open-ended question and wait through the awkward silence. An open-ended question calls for more than a yes or no answer. “Would you like a soda?” is not an open ended question; whereas, “How to do you think soda has affected the nation’s health?” is open ended. Eliminate all distractions (TVs, phones etc.). Then stand in front of the clam, make eye contact, ask the open question and wait–a full minute in silence if necessary.
  6. Super Agreeables/ Stallers – say they will but never get to it – identify and remove barriers. Your friend has promised to come over and help you fix you sink, but a conflict arises whenever you propose a time. Ask, “What is stopping us form doing this tomorrow?” His answer: “I have to go grocery shopping.” You response: “I will get everything on your list for you and bring it to your house.” Often this will result in him helping you fix the sink, but sometimes it will just expose the fact that he never intends to actually help you with it. Either way, he’s less apt to make you promises and not keep them in the future.

Describe one person in your life who is difficult. If there are no problems or things that could improve, or if the person or situation is beyond help, choose another person or situation. Follow the grading criteria below to build the report.

You will be graded on three criteria:

  • Your report clearly describes/defines the concept from class that you will be applying.
  • Your report includes an example of a specific, single time the person in question demonstrated the difficult behavior. (You tell a one-time story.)
  • Your report includes a plan–how you will apply the concept you learned in class to help you improve the problem. (A passing report must apply one of the strategies outlined above.)

In addition to submitting a written version, you will share this orally in class.

Sarah Student
Oral Interpersonal Communication MW 1 p.m.
Dealing with Difficult People

DEFINE/EXPLAIN CONCEPT: Sherman tanks run over people to get their way.  For example if you told your mother not to give your son ice cream but she did anyway, your mother would be a Sherman tank.  Richard Bramson, author of Dealing with Difficult People, explains that with Sherman tanks, one should not be drawn into a fight but also should not back down. So, to deal with your mom and the ice cream, Bramson would recommend that you calmly take the ice cream from the kid, throw it away (don’t back down) and leave, without saying a word to your mother (don’t fight).  If you argue with your mother about it, she wins because Sherman tanks live to argue, and they will never stop.

ONE-TIME STORY/EXAMPLE OF THE DIFFICULT BEHAVIOR: My Uncle Stuart is a Sherman tank.  Last Tuesday, he showed up, as he often does, to use my tools and get my help fixing his truck. (I’m an automotive mechanic so I have great tools and knowledge.) I explained that I had an important paper due for school in the morning and that I couldn’t help him that day.  He ignored me and walked into the garage and started grabbing tools.  He knocked on the door every two minutes to ask me things until I just gave up and fixed it with him.

PLAN FOR THE FUTURE: In the future, I will park my car on the street so he can’t park me in; and when he shows up, I will say I have an appointment, drive to school, and do my homework in the library.  In this way, I will not back down and fix the vehicle with him, and neither will I get drawn into an argument (fight).