From a Bottom Line e-mail:
any of us have people in our lives whom we can't stand. Often, there's no escaping interaction with these difficult people. However, even the most unpleasant situations can be made tolerable.
Most difficult people fall into one of the following categories, though some jump from category to category depending on the situation. Strategies for dealing with each type...
Tanks. Pushy and confrontational, tanks come at us with guns blazing when they think we're causing them problems. Explanations won't calm them, and counterattacking could lead to all-out war.
What to do: Let the tank vent for up to 60 seconds. Remain calm and maintain eye contact -- looking down or backing away might make you seem weak or fearful, which will make the tank respect you even less. If the attack still hasn't ended, firmly repeat his/her name until he quiets. Then summarize his main point to show that you were listening, and explain why his interest is best served by calling off the attack. Tanks tend to be pragmatists, so this should work.
Example: "Dad. Dad. I know you don't like my long hair and the way I dress. But I flew all the way here for us to enjoy each other as a family. We can do that. Or I can leave right now. Your choice."
Snipers. Snipers make rude or sarcastic comments or engage in malicious gossip. Their behavior often stems from suppressed anger or resentment that's unrelated to a specific encounter.
What to do: Call attention to their unpleasant behavior in front of a group. When a sniper insults you, immediately stop whatever you're doing, look right at the sniper, repeat the comment, then ask, "What's going on? What are you really trying to say?" If the joke or insult is irrelevant to the situation, add, "What does that have to do with this?" Keep your tone of voice innocent, not sarcastic or annoyed.
Important: Most snipers back down when confronted, but a few transform into tanks. Should this occur, use the strategy for dealing with tanks, above.
If the sniping continues, pick a private moment to ask, "All of this sniping at me... is something the matter between us?" If your question seems sincere, the sniper might open up and explain the underlying problem... or realize that he's gone too far and stop the behavior.
Know-it-alls. Know-it-alls are sure that they're always right. In fact, they often are right -- but they have little regard for the opinions of others.
What to do: Though it may be hard to swallow, the only way to get anywhere with a know-it-all is to treat him with respect. Frequent use of lines like "Obviously you know your stuff," and "You always have something intelligent to say," should reduce his need to prove his brilliance to you. Repeat know-it-alls' opinions back to them so that they know you grasp them. Rather than offer your opinion to a know-it-all, ask questions that lead him to the answer you want. Never question a know-it-all's views directly, because this will only make him defensive and cause him to dig in his heels. If you think he's wrong, cite irrefutable outside sources, then ask how that affects his conclusions.
Example: Your know-it-all spouse says that there's only one island worth visiting for scuba diving, and only one time of year worth going. Your research suggests that there's a jellyfish problem on that island at that time of year. You say, "August sounds wonderful there, but I read an article in last June's Scuba Diving magazine about the August jellyfish problem. Should we consider a different island or month to avoid jellyfish?"
Think-they-know-it-alls. These people act like know-it-alls, but they're usually wrong. They just enjoy the attention that acting like experts brings them.
What to do: Ask these people for specific examples until their lack of insight becomes obvious to all... or ask them follow-up questions. Then explain that anyone could have made this mistake so the would-be know-it-all doesn't feel backed into a corner.
Example: "I know your idea won't work because my friend considered doing the same thing. Turns out there are complex tax consequences that only an accountant would know about."
Grenades. Grenades explode unexpectedly, with little provocation. A grenade might begin a rant by blaming you for a specific problem, but by the end, he's likely to be venting about things that seem unrelated or even irrational. Unlike tanks, who focus on specific problems, grenades are mainly in search of attention.
What to do: Fight fire with fire. Get the grenade's attention by raising your voice to match his, calling his name and waving your hands in front of you (without getting too close to him). Keep your tone friendly as you do this. Use rant-interruption statements, such as "I don't want you to feel that way. No one should have to feel that way." Address the portion of the grenade's rambling rant that matters most to him, if it can be identified. (Often this central problem will be that he's not getting the attention he feels he deserves.)
Example: "We care about all the effort you put into this."
If appropriate, add that you love this person. Grenades need to cool off before they can talk rationally, so suggest meeting later if more discussion is required. If you must deal with a grenade regularly, learn to avoid the topics that tend to set him off.
Yes-people. Yes-people want so badly to be loved and valued that they automatically agree to every request. Then they become overcommitted and can't deliver.
What to do: The key to living or working with a yes-person is providing reassurance that no one will hold his decisions against him. When necessary, walk these problem people through the decision-making process.
Example: A yes-person who already is spread too thin volunteers to assist with yet another project. Walk this person through each step that would be involved and how it would fit into his schedule until he understands that it isn't feasible for him.
Nothing-people. Nothing people offer no feedback, and won't voice an opinion even when one is needed.
What to do: To drag a response out of a nothing-person, ask questions that require more than yes or no answers, such as "How do you want to proceed?" Then put on your best expectant look, and stare at this person -- for an uncomfortably long period of time, if need be. If staring fails, try guessing.
Example: "Are you mad at me because I got home late on Tuesday? Because I forgot to wash the dishes? Because of something I said?" Toss out guess after guess until one triggers a response.
If the nothing-person's only answer is "I don't know," ask him to guess. If he refuses, supply greatly exaggerated choices. When faced with exaggerations, most people supply an accurate answer.
Example: A contractor tells you he doesn't know how much a job will cost. You ask, "Well, is it $50? $50,000?" Inserting numbers that are way too low and way too high often will prod such a person into a reasonable response.
No-people/whiners. No-people are defeatist... whiners feel overwhelmed by an unfair world. Oddly, these people become more defeatist or whinier when we try to solve their problems for them... or tell them that their problems are not really so bad.
What to do: Get these people to solve their own problems. Begin by getting to the specific problem. No-people/whiners will claim that the whole world is the problem. Insist that they name a concrete, relevant issue, then ask, "What do you think we should do about it?"
If no useful response is given, come up with an exaggerated solution to lighten the mood.
Example: "You say that the president of your bridge club doesn't respect you. OK -- let's have her killed. I'll start interviewing hit men on Monday."
If humor fails, establish a boundary. Say, "You don't want to think about solutions. When you do, let me know and I'll help."