How to Identify the Toxic Types of Difficult Behavior

By Marsha Petrie Sue

When you attempt to use the same approach for different styles of difficult behavior and situations, you will wind up with unresolved conflict. Learn the six types of difficult behaviors and you will build relationships that will help you find the success you deserve. Steamrollers, Zipper Lips, Know It All’s, Needy Weenies, Whine and Cheesers, and Back Stabbers can be found in the work place and at home!

Steamroller: Bullies, aggressors, always right. Steamrollers are very intimidating.  Their favorite stance is to get control by putting others down and they do this very subtly. “Don’t expect me to be part of the charm brigade.” They have figured out that this surly behavior works and they really don’t care if they are liked. Don’t attack. Response? “That is very true and is definitely a first step. I’d like your ideas on additional steps.”

Zipper Lip: Clam, tight lip, cautious thinker, madly mysterious, or verbal anorexic. They fail to share their knowledge, opinions, or ideas, and rarely have good eye contact.  Their stance is one of cocooning including closed body language and typically poor posture. They use escape behavior – “I don’t know” is their way to avoid involvement. Response? “I expected you to have responded by now and you haven’t so I’ll just wait.”

Know It All: Expert, always right, arrogant expert and obnoxious authority. Learn as much as you can by asking great questions. Ask them for more detail that is specific. Appoint them the “expert” in selected segments of a meeting, project, etc. The Know It All really believes that there is nothing you can do but accept their wisdom because they are cleverer than you. Response? “Your feedback is important.  I want to hear what you think.”

Needy Weenie: Wimp, worrywart. agonizers, vacillators, anxious Annie’s, and martyrs. When they say “yes” they mean “maybe.” Their coming back to you repeatedly for validation and help makes you feel like you have a bad rash that just won’t go away! When you hear “That sounds good to me; let me think about it” — beware! Ask them about their progress with this response: “What do you want me to do?” or “What kind of help can I provide?”

Whine and Cheeser: Griper, chronic complainer, always negative. You’ve heard these people referred to as the bad apples, the complainers, the faultfinders, the naysayer, and losers. They drain energy out of people and projects. Response? “Are you looking for some specific solutions to this or do you just want me to help you look into the problem?” “I choose to take a more positive perspective because I have found that gets me better results.”

Back Stabber: Sniper, snakes in suits, psychopaths. Avoid “You” language as it is interpreted as a real threat and will only make them more aggressive. Back Stabbers spread damaging rumors and try to break down existing friendships. Their only goals seem to be in power or for personal gain. Response?  “That did sound like you were serious. Do the rest of you feel that way? Is this becoming a problem?”

Moving forward: Now that you’ve identified the type of difficult person you’re dealing with, create mindfulness and understand the kind of toxic behaviors you display.  This will allow you to choose an appropriate response, manage your own anger and move forward in a positive way. If the conflict continues, relook at your approach and communications. Remember you are changing old habits and that is never easy.

Do you have a favorite way to approach any of these six types of difficult behavior?  Please share!

Cheers – Marsha

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Marsha Petrie Sue, MBA

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