Jump to content
Mental Support Community

Interesting article, 'dealing with difficult people'


hellscion
 Share

Recommended Posts

This isn't the full article but if you want to read the rest of it, follow this link:

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200609/dealing-difficult-people

Some people go to extraordinary lengths to be difficult. Think of the diva actress whose on-set needs can never be met or the boss who keeps moving the goal posts. The difficult person elevates the deliberate provocation to an art form. The underlying message is often, "Unless you agree with me and go along, you'll regret it."

One clue that a person is attempting to intimidate or manipulate you is the use of unpredictable, or protean, behavior—acts that are random and seemingly out of the blue. A dictator keeps his minions guessing—and scared. Some forms of despotism are much subtler: Duke Ellington was known for provoking heated rivalries and feuds among his bandmates in the belief that such strife would make the music hotter.

Erratic behavior is a powerful weapon because it defies accurate prediction. Often, the behavior comes as a surprise even to the person generating it.

Flying into a rage or staring you down and dismissing you summarily are common strategies to keep you off-kilter. Unpredictable actions serve the purpose of confusing potential usurpers and avoiding responsibility. Your boss freaks out, throws things and yells. Some might call him irrational. But the irrationality gives him a leg up.

Erratic behavior served adaptive ends in our past, and it still does. Just as a minnow might cut a zigzagging path to avoid being snapped up by a larger fish, the boss alternately screams and stonewalls to avoid having her motives laid bare.

Protean behavior evolved to prevent people from being psyched out. That's not to say that fickle acts are always openly hostile and aggressive. The difficult person can just as easily be solicitous or seductive: Think of femme fatales from biblical Judith to Mata Hari. Unpredictable behavior is at heart about deception, and it's just as likely to be unconscious as conscious.

If such behavior comes from a boss or a spouse, you've got some tricky choices to make. There are several problems confronting you at once, since you're juggling competing goals. Your ego tells you to stick up for yourself, but you want to avoid an unnecessary argument.

Usually we can't resist getting riled up in our own defense. The ease with which we fall into dueling dyads is a remnant of a "culture of honor" that most of our ancestors needed to adopt. Our neural circuitry equips us to immediately jump to our own defense. The Neanderthink urge to rectify an injustice kicks in automatically, lest we accept abject defeat. The immediacy of the "me versus you" and "us versus them" reaction hinders a more intelligent and considered response.

We usually regret having charged into battle—or at least we wonder what we were thinking. And that's just it: We weren't thinking. An emotional reaction bypasses thoughtful deliberation. No rational person today would engage in an argument with a random person on the street. But if someone bumps into us, blocks our way or otherwise wants to hassle us, our immediate inclination is to freeze, fight or flee. Similarly, our immediate response to the verbal slights or manipulative barbs of a difficult person is often to fight back. Your immediate reaction is, "I can't stand this crazy, insulting behavior."

We too quickly jump to our own defense when we feel insulted. We do so because we have evolved a hypervigilant concern for our standing among peers. This focus on status makes sense as a play for dominance and power, qualities that translate into real mating options. The need to retain status is an example of Neanderthink. This knee-jerk demand for status can push us to get outraged and to lose focus on larger goals, such as keeping your job or your mate. We want to prove that we are correct—but doing it angrily and intolerantly can hinder your major objectives. Dominance at every turn is good, but not a necessity.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

  • 4 months later...
Guest ASchwartz

Hi Hellscion,

I agree that its an excellent article and thank you for posting it.

I would only point out a couple of things:

1. There are difficult people who do not seem to go to a lot of trouble to be difficult. It just seems to come naturally to them. I say this half in jest and half seriously. But, yes, they cause us lots of grief.

2. The adice on how to deal with this type of person is also excellent. The trouble is that its easier said than done. The reason for that is that this type of personality has a "knack" for pushing our buttons. However, I agree.

Allan:)

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Guest
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

Loading...
 Share

×
×
  • Create New...