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Are You Difficult to Work With? Understand Your Behavior to Change It

Categories: Culture of Accountability, Professional Development

Earlier this month, I blogged about dealing with difficult people in the workplace.

You know the type -- People who don’t give their all, don’t communicate. People who are argumentative, defensive, perhaps even overly aggressive.

If you are reading this and shaking your head, I’d like to pose a question:

Are you sure that you, yourself, aren’t guilty of any of these kinds of difficult behaviors?

What if, and let’s be honest here, sometimes you are the difficult one? What is behind this type of behavior? Knowing the answers will help to get your own self-sabotaging behaviors under control, and give you fantastic insights into the behaviors of other people.

Common internal causes of argumentative, defensive, and aggressive behavior include:

  • Fear of making a mistake/being wrong
  • Fear of looking foolish/being vulnerable
  • Fear of being found out as a fraud
  • Fear of losing control
  • Fear of losing the job/being replaced/passed over

As you can see, the common denominator on that list is fear or insecurity about your abilities or your position. I’m going to add one more item: a lack of communication skills.

Symptoms of these fears include:

  • Flying off the handle
  • Wrapping your arms around your chest and moving backwards
  • Inability to let anything go and fuming over it for days or weeks afterward
  • Flipping out over the slightest critical feedback, suggestion of change, or perceived challenge to what you’ve said or done

If any of this makes you cringe, if any of this strikes a chord, then you can be pretty sure that behind these behavior lies fear — whether you ever realized it or not.

So, what can you do about it, if you do find yourself guilty of these behaviors?

First of all, realize that they are knee-jerk reactions that will sabotage your goals and your career in the long run.

They might not get you fired, but they probably will keep you stuck. Here are seven suggestions to change your problematic behaviors:

  1. Take full accountability for your reactions and ineffective coping mechanisms. Admitting where you are with regard to dealing with a problem behavior is always the first step to moving forward to change it.
  2. Learn to recognize when you are feeling threatened or defensive. If you can sense the signals and triggers, you can be more proactive to change your reaction to them.
  3. Remind yourself to listen carefully; what sounds like an attack is probably only a trigger for your own fears.
  4. Take a deep breath or two before responding. Nod your head to show that you’ve heard the other person, and count to five before even opening your mouth.
  5. Ask a question about what was just said. This is a fantastic, little-known nugget of pure gold, a delaying tactic that gives you time to take those deep breaths and get your emotions under control.
  6. Ask for more time to respond. “Can I have some time to digest that before we discuss it further?” is a brilliant tactic. But make sure you take the initiative to reopen the discussion — don’t make the other person approach you a second time.
  7. Ask someone to help you with this behavior — a trusted coworker, a family member, a mentor, even a counselor. Don’t expect these changes to occur overnight, and don’t give up!
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