Dealing With People At Work Who Explode, Manipulate Or Whine



Dear Readers,

Today, I'd like to share my responses to a letter I recently received. My answers will be based on the process of Nonviolent Communication that I have been describing over the past several weeks.

Dear Dr. Donna,

How do you deal with difficult people at work or in your home life -- people who explode, manipulate, or whine?


Dear Concerned,

Let me start with the first type of difficulty you mentioned -- "people who explode."

First, I'd like to say that the idea of people exploding sounds scary to me and I want to be sure that you keep yourself safe. Many times, the safest response is to leave the situation until the person can calm down enough to discuss the problem rationally.

Sometimes, when people really need understanding or want to be heard, they may act in ways that prevents that from happening.

For example, their voices may get louder and they may repeat themselves, but, unfortunately, that behavior can make the situation worse. When we feel threatened or intimidated by a situation, our bodies react by going into fight/flight or freeze mode.

At that point in time, the rational/thinking part of the brain, the cerebral cortex becomes disconnected. It can help to take deep breaths with the diaphragm, which signals the parasympathetic nervous system to kick in and bring the body back to homeostasis.

I suggest talking with the person about his or her actions when they are calm.

Use an "I-message" to describe their specific behavior, how you feel when you observe it, what you need, and what you plan to do in the future in order to take care of yourself. Try, "When you raise your voice, I feel scared. I need to know that we can talk with each other in a respectful way so that we can both feel heard and understood. In the future, I will take a timeout and we can resume our discussion when you have calmed down." Sometimes, just agreeing on a cue, such as lowering the hand, will work well to provide nonverbal feedback, if you have discussed the situation in advance.

The second type of difficulty you mention is "people who manipulate."

I assume you mean they are not directly honest or assertive about their needs and requests. Perhaps they may say "yes" to something but then procrastinate or make excuses, or they may try to get you to say "yes" to something by bargaining with you, or by indirectly trying to get their needs met.

Again, I would describe their actions factually and specifically. Tell them how you feel, what your needs are and then make a doable request. For example, "When you stop talking to me, I feel concerned. I'd like to know what's going on so we can work this out. Would you be willing to tell me how you have been feeling?"

The third difficulty was "people who whine." I believe whining is yet another way people may try to express their feelings and needs in an indirect manner. It can often be frustrating to the listener.

However, if we let someone do something for us when they are not totally willing, we may end up paying a price for their being nice, because they may do the job halfheartedly, or with resentment. To help negotiate with them, you might try offering some empathy.

This can be done by guessing out loud what they may be feeling and needing in the form of a question.

Try, "When you hear me ask you to do this work, do you feel bothered, because you want to complete the project you are working on now, first?" Sometimes, just this much empathy can be the deal breaker between forced compliance and willing cooperation.

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