How can you effectively deal with difficult behavior?
How can you effectively deal with difficult behavior? Amy Gallo is author of the book Getting Along: How to Work with Anyone (Even Difficult People). An article about that book states that Gallo identifies 8 types of difficult people. The article focuses on one of those tricky types, the passive-aggressive, and describes dos and don'ts for dealing with them effectively. I have some critical comments on her typology but find her recommendations interesting.
The 8 types of difficult people according to Gallo
Below I give Gallo's description of the 8 tricky types:
- The passive-aggressive: Appears to meet the needs of others, but then passively resists carrying them out.
- The Insecure Boss: Can be a micromanager who terrifies you with incessant criticism. Or he could be a paranoid busybody who makes you question your every move. They can even intentionally hurt your career if they see you as a threat.
- The Pessimist: Constantly points out all the ways in which something can fail. It sometimes seems like they can never say anything positive.
- The Victim: has the feeling that everyone is after him. Does not take responsibility for own behaviour, quickly points the finger at other people when things go wrong.
- The Know-it-all: Convinced he's the smartest person in the room, gobbles up airtime, and doesn't shy away from interrupting others. They are happy to tell you what is right, even when they are clearly wrong.
- The Tormentor: is someone who has earned his way to the top, usually making sacrifices – only to mistreat others below him. It could be an older colleague who you expect to be a mentor, but who makes your life miserable.
- The Biased: consciously or unconsciously commits microaggressions. Whatever they think is their intent with these comments, their behavior is inappropriate and harmful.
- The Political operator: Is out to advance his own career – but at your expense. Of course, politics in the office is often unavoidable, but this person is fixated on progress and takes no prisoners.
I do not know how Gallo arrived at her typology. In the article, she says nothing more than, “During research for my new book, “Getting Along,” I identified eight types of difficult people.” I hope I don't do her justice, but suspect that the typology is based on anecdotal evidence and not on thorough scientific research. But apart from that, there's something else that makes me skeptical.
Typologies often appeal to people because they are so clear. Gallo's typology is colorful and immediately evokes associations with situations in which we ourselves have experienced people as difficult. But, as I explain in this article, this kind of categorical thinking about people has drawbacks and risks: “Peging people into boxes is often unnecessary and unfair. You reduce the individual to a characteristic. Moreover, it is often illogical to categorize people.” People often do not "fit" neatly into a box, do not want to be placed in a box and do not behave in all situations as the box defines it.
Better: difficult behavior
Of course, there are behaviors of other people that can be difficult or complex for us. But it would be more nuanced and less objectionable to speak of difficult behavior, or behavior patterns, than of difficult types. This would do justice to the fact that people can behave very differently in different situations and also to the fact that people can develop.
A second nuance is that what appears difficult to us, does not have to be intended as difficult to others. People can be critical with the best of intentions. We may experience that as difficult, they may think that they have a good reason for their behavior.
Dealing effectively with passive-aggressive behavior
The rest of the article is about how we can effectively deal with passive-aggressive behavior of others. In this part, she says some worthy things.
- Don't label them as "passive-aggressive." Gallo argues against labeling the person because it will likely make them angrier and defensive, making communication more difficult. [As explained above, I'm going to take it a step further and say that we should not only not call them passive-aggressive but also not see it as such.]
- Focus on the content, not the delivery: Focus on the real concern or question hidden behind the witty comments.
- Find out what the other person thinks is important: Try to find out: What do they think is important? What do they want to achieve?
- Draw attention to what is happening. Stick to facts—the things you know for sure—without emotion or exaggeration. Then explain how their actions affected you. Finally, make a clear request.
Reflection: I suspect these suggestions aren't just helpful for dealing with passive-aggressive behavior.