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In many of my trainings, people struggle with others who have difficult behaviours. Whether you are dealing with someone who you’re sure is a “bully” or someone who has “power over” you, believe it or not, the antidote is the same!
This I learned definitively by doing a podcast interview with Bill Eddy and one of his lead trainers, Michael Lomax. Bill started the High Conflict Institute and brings both his social work and legal backgrounds to his work with high conflict personalities. What Bill has learned over the decades of taming these extreme behaviours, is counter-intuitive.
When faced with someone who has difficult behaviours, you need to pour on the respect and the assertiveness both! Bill has devised an acronym he calls “EAR” – that stands for:
Empathy. Attention. Respect.
Those with difficult personality traits need to know you respect them, to keep their attention, and because they are used to either getting their own way, or some can be triggered easily, the empathy, attention and respect is important.
At the same time, creating crystal clear requests and expectations are also important. That’s where the balance of empathy and assertion comes in.
In my signature course, How to Have Difficult Conversations, these fundamental skills are embedded into the conversational model. With difficult personalities, you need these skills on steroids.
The challenge is most of us, when faced with behaviours that trigger us, devolve into one of the common reptilian strategies: fleeing, fighting, submitting or freezing. None of these advance our wants and needs or bring the other person’s into the arena. My colleague Gordon White and I were approached by a leader recently, wanting to deal with another person they perceived as having inordinate power. They thought the only option was to “get tough” because the other person displayed such “tough behaviours.”
There’s the trap! You will not win with the same strategies as that person. Don’t try to be more aggressive than someone who is using aggression. Don’t try to be more dominating than someone who tends to dominant. They are the masters of their strategies, so why would you want to ever try to “beat them”?
What is much more effective is to pour on both your empathy and your assertion. The EAR strategy serves to start to disarm their more non-cooperative behaviours and your assertion helps you move forward constructively. Assert, then listen, listen, listen. Assert again.
If you find this kind of information stimulating and useful, keep your eyes peeled over the next few weeks as I’ll be announcing that my How to Have Difficult Conversations course is going to be available in an on-line, 24-7, on demand basis! Gordon and I have taken both our Difficult Conversation courses, and years of experience in conflict, and made this on-line version together!
In the meantime, if you want to dive into how to deal with those difficult personalities, I highly recommend the podcast I mentioned, which you can find here.