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How Difficult Employees Can Victimize Others In The Workplace

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Stop Being A Victim Of Your Difficult Employee Or Co-Worker

Here’s a circle for you. To manage a difficult person, it is absolutely essential that you avoid becoming a victim of that person. However, to avoid becoming a victim, guess what you need to do? Manage the situation and the person.

It’s really important that you understand that both inaction and overly quick action contribute to the increase of abuse from difficult people.

True victimhood comes from adopting a victim mentality. That means allowing the difficult person to push you and pull you emotionally. It may also mean that the true victim becomes an unwitting accomplice to the difficult person by encouraging the difficult person to open up with guns blazing.

It’s really simple. The more you permit a person to get under your skin, the more you get stuck in the victim role. The more you get stuck, the less able you are to fix the problem. And so you become more and more of a victim.

How, exactly, do people end up trapped in a victim mentality? There are two ways. One is to avoid dealing with a difficult person, to gut it out without being proactive. The second is to act too quickly, the leapbefore- you-look syndrome.

The Perils of Inaction

Don’t feel bad about yourself if you are prone to inaction when faced with difficult people. You are like the rest of us. We all avoid dealing with difficult situations and difficult people at one time or another.

Difficult people thrive when others tolerate their difficult behavior. That’s because somehow or other, the difficult person feels rewarded in some odd ways

While it may be perfectly normal to choose inaction over taking control of the situation, it isn’t useful to you or other people who interact with the difficult person. Here’s why.

Difficult people thrive when others tolerate their difficult behavior. That’s because somehow or other, the difficult person feels rewarded in some odd ways; in fact, that’s one reason why they are difficult. They haven’t caught on that it’s more rewarding to behave nicely than to be difficult. And they aren’t going to catch on unless they get some help.

Doing nothing isn’t going to change anything. In fact, one of the major issues with difficult people is that doing nothing makes them more difficult over time.

The more you do nothing, the worse they get. The worse they get, the bigger the problem and the more likely you will try to avoid facing the problem. There are those circles again!

Where does all this lead? If you do nothing long enough, you can enter the chronic “Kick Me, I’m Easy” Club. If that doesn’t suit you, you can join the “Hello, I’m a Perpetual Victim” Fraternal Association. While you are attending meetings of those organizations, the difficult person is wreaking havoc, not only with your life, but the lives of everyone around them.

Inaction isn’t the solution. Just taking action isn’t enough, either. It has to be the right action.

Leaping Before You Look With Difficult Employees and Co-Workers

Inaction isn’t the only fast track to victimhood. There is another risk. Most of us, when faced with a difficult person, get frustrated at their antics, even angry. After all, who likes to feel manipulated, bullied, pushed, and pulled? Nobody.

I certainly understand if your first reaction or desire with respect to difficult people is to put them in their place or to do anything just to beat them. Again, that’s normal. But while it may be normal, it can put you in a worse position in terms of dealing with that difficult person. In fact, it may actually invite the difficult person to become more difficult.

It’s important that you look at yourself to identify which of the four (or perhaps all four) reasons are relevant to you. If you become more aware of the reasons why you sometimes choose victimhood, you will be better prepared to make better, more rational decisions.

Let’s say you’re at a meeting having a heated discussion with Marianne, who is being completely unreasonable and rude in her remarks. She comments in a sneaky way about “how some people at the meeting behave like hypocrites.” That’s nasty. You leap in with your own tirade to let her know that you won’t stand for such comments, and that she should have the guts to be specific if she is going to make accusations.

What do you think will happen? Do you think Marianne will tender a public apology and behave more appropriately? Or is it more likely she will turn up the heat on the burner, with you firmly placed in the center? If you chose the latter, you are correct. Few difficult people react well to this form of outright confrontation. As a result of your immediate leap into the fray, you are almost guaranteed to receive more abuse.

That’s the core of victimhood. When we add fuel to a fire, we make a bigger fire.

Almost always our first gut response to difficult people is one that is going to increase the likelihood we will be victimized again, perhaps to a greater degree than before.

It’s really important that you understand that both inaction and overly quick action contribute to the increase of abuse from difficult people. Here are a few of the kinds of things you must avoid if you want to succeed in managing difficult people:

  • Responding to personal attacks with personal attacks
  • Trying to win rather than addressing the issue
  • Trying to shut down discussion too fast
  • Becoming difficult yourself

Four Reasons You Might Choose to Be a Victim

OK, hands up out there. How many of you have chosen not to take action with a difficult person when you should have? How many of you have reacted to a difficult person in an angry or nonconstructive way? You with the book in your hand—why isn’t your hand up?

Everyone has done both of these things at some point or another. There’s no shame in that. However if you consistently repeat the same mistakes over and over and end up paying the cost by becoming a victim, that’s not a good thing.

So, why do you do it? And why is it important to know the reason? Because if you don’t know what it is about difficult people that causes you to make poor decisions, it isn’t likely you will be able to change. If you don’t change, you are going to be a consistent victim.

There are four main reasons that people make bad decisions, avoid taking action, or take the wrong actions. The first three have to do with avoidance, while the final one is a biological reason that has to do with our initial gut reactions to difficult people and our feelings of threat. Let’s look at these one by one.

It’s important that you look at yourself to identify which of the four (or perhaps all four) reasons are relevant to you. If you become more aware of the reasons why you sometimes choose victimhood, you will be better prepared to make better, more rational decisions.

Disbelief (This Can’t Be Happening)

Ever been in a situation where you’ve said to yourself, “I can’t believe she said that”? Probably. One reason we fail to take action with difficult people is we don’t expect them to be difficult. Most normal people don’t go through life looking for trouble from others. When trouble arises unexpectedly, or someone’s behavior is simply outrageous, we have a tendency to freeze, like a deer caught in the headlights—stunned. We are at a loss for words, almost disbelieving what is right in front of us.

Not only can we freeze up in the immediate moment, but sometimes difficult behavior is so weird that even after the fact we don’t believe it really happened. Or we deny it or excuse it as a one-time aberration.

Do you do this? If so, you need to realize that people do hurtful, difficult things and that they are indeed real. To deny what is happening is only going to make the situation worse.

Desire to Avoid Confrontation

Even if you recognize that someone is being nasty, difficult, or unpleasant, you may hesitate to act because you think this way: If I say something, it’s just going to make the situation worse.

Sometimes that will be true. There are cases where making a big deal of something that is, in the grand scheme of things, rather trivial, will have you come off as a difficult pain in the butt yourself.

Or perhaps you know that the difficult person argues about everything, and you are tired of it.

There has to be a happy medium here. I don’t suggest that you jump on every little thing. However, if you ignore and ignore, all you end up doing is hanging a “kick me” sign on your rear end.

Recognize that dealing with a difficult person in a constructive way doesn’t have to mean getting into an argument or a confrontation. In Chapter 5, “Keeping Your Feet on the Ground with Difficult People,” I’ll talk about techniques you can use to approach difficult people with the right mind-set and a non-confrontational approach. Try not to let your dread of confrontation interfere with taking control of difficult situations, because it doesn’t have to be horrible.

Nobody Wants to Be the Bad Guy

The third reason people tend to wait too long to intervene with difficult people has to do with not wanting to come across as the heavy. This is particularly true of managers who are sensitive to the need to use power sparingly in today’s workplace.

Get over it! You get paid to manage, so manage. Whether it’s someone not doing a good job, someone interfering with the work of others, or someone polluting the work environment, you as a manager have a responsibility above and beyond those who are not managers. You are, in effect, charged with ensuring the welfare of those in your care.

Besides, just as intervening need not bring about a confrontation, stepping in need not make you the bad guy.

Fight or Flight (And Freeze)

The final underlying reason for mishandling difficult situations is the “fight or flight” phenomenon. It’s biological; all animals have it. It works this way; when you believe you are under some threat, your body reacts by sending hormones and doing a bunch of other things to prepare to either run away, or to stand and fight.

It’s those chemical changes in your body that cause things like sweating, higher pulse rate, and even shaking during or after perceived danger.

Unfortunately, those chemical changes, while allowing you to make a quick escape or engage in a quick fight, also cause those quick, destructive verbal responses. So, if it’s any solace, there is actually a biological reason why you might speak or react too quickly when dealing with a difficult person.

Fortunately, we aren’t slaves to the flight or flight thing. We can learn to control ourselves, and even to react less aggressively when we are in difficult situations. Later on in the book, I will help you with some techniques for slowing down reactions, and avoiding the fuel-on-the-fire syndrome.

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


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