Friday, January 13, 2006

Stress for Succss
January 31, 2006

Get comfortable with silence, allowing Clam time to open up

You ask your 16-year-old what he thinks about something and he just shrugs his shoulders. Or you try to get your spouse to share her feelings but she won’t. These Clams (as author Dr. Robert Bramson calls them) seem passive but their silence is a very powerful tactic. Usually they use silence to control, sometimes to hurt you or to get even with you.

Since Americans tend to be uncomfortable with silence, your typical reaction to your Clam is probably to talk. To get her to open up, however, you need to silently wait for her reply.

Try these general ideas:

• Ask open questions which start with “how” or “what”. For example, you’ve just finished an employee performance appraisal meeting and you ask, “Does this sound fair to you?” Nothing. You squirm after a few seconds then explain98 your evaluation. Instead, use an open question. “What’s your reaction to what I’ve said?” Then sit silently with a look that communicates you expect her to respond. In your head, count to sixty or beyond. Often she’ll start talking once she realizes you aren’t going to jump in. If she doesn’t, then
• State the obvious. “I’ve gone over your performance appraisal and have asked for your reaction but you’ve said nothing. What’s (open question) going on?” This time, count silently to more than you did the first time. Most Clams will start talking.
• If not, set a limit on how long you’ll wait. Don’t try to out-wait a Clam. “We’ve been sitting here for several minutes waiting for your reply. If I hear nothing from you by 4:00 p.m. I’ll assume you agree with my appraisal of your performance.”

When it’s a family member who’s not talking use the “Back-to-Back” technique. (You sit back-to-back to keep from seeing each other’s nonverbal reactions.) I’ve seen communication miracles using this technique. For example, you’re having difficulty communicating about finances with your spouse. Agree upon:

• meeting twice over two to three weeks.
• a day, time and place to meet.
• what you’ll discuss (e.g., finances) and for how long (fifteen to thirty minutes each person is recommended).
• who’ll speak first.

When the meeting arrives sit back-to-back. Follow these rules:

• Whoever goes first says whatever she wants to say about the agreed-upon topic uninterrupted for her entire amount of time. If she runs out of things to say, sit there silently until her time is done. Follow this rule carefully and you may be amazed at what comes out.
• Then he speaks only about the agreed-upon topic, uninterrupted. He doesn’t respond to anything she said but rather only says how he sees the topic.
• After each is finished, go your separate ways saying nothing.
• The second meeting (one to two weeks later) he speaks first and responds to what she said the first time, uninterrupted. Then she speaks for her allotted time responding to what he said the first time, uninterrupted. After the allotted time go your separate ways again.
• Repeat this process until you can discuss the sensitive issue without the back-to-back technique.

The main point with Clams is to not fill the silence when they say nothing. By giving them some space many if not most will slowly begin to open up.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Professional Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Stress for Success
January 24, 2006

Keep these steps in mind when dealing with a Chronic Complainer

Have you ever heard the one about the boss who says to an employee who’s complaining again, “would you like a little cheese with that whine?” The first time I heard this I cracked up. The boss who told me this said it worked! His complaining employee stopped complaining.

This may not necessarily work with the complainers in your life. The point of this example is that the boss changed his reaction to his Chronic Complainer. Remember from past articles in this series that your predictable reaction is the power of difficult types of people. The good news is that your reaction is within your control. Change your reaction to get a different result whether with a difficult person or with your best friend vs. expecting her to change. She’s beyond your control and wishing she’d change is barking up a stressful tree.

So change your reaction to your complainer. Because you typically know what will come out of a Chronic Complainer’s mouth, you probably ignore him. Unfortunately this can motivate him to complain even more. Ignoring isn’t working.

To come up with a better approach it helps to understand this personality. What most Chronic Complainers need is to be heard. When they're ignored they tend to complain more loudly. (To get more information on this and other difficult people, read the best book I’ve found on this subject, Coping with Difficult People by Dr. Robert Bramson.)

Think of a Chronic Complainer in your life. Have you ever stopped to truly listen to not only his words but the essence of what he’s saying? Try it. You may be surprised that he complains less as he feels better understood.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when dealing with a this personality type:

• Listen carefully, then paraphrase what you heard him say.
• If his complaint is stated with sweeping terminology like “always” or “never”, “everyone” or “no one”, pin him down to specifics.
• Ask how he would handle the situation about which he’s complaining. It may encourage him to think in a different way; in a non-complaining away.
• If your Chronic Complainer is an employee, assign him the responsibility of solving whatever the problem is he's complaining about. Some people complain out of habit and once faced with the responsibility of fixing what they’re complaining about they stop because they don't want the responsibility. If they truly want the problem solved and they're put in charge of solving it, it might allow them to be more empowered therefore less likely to complain.
• If he’s complaining about another person, encourage him to go talk to that person instead of to you.
• Ask him to put his complaint in writing if it's appropriate. The very act of writing it down sometimes makes it obvious that his complaint is invalid. Or he may rephrase it in a way that you can hear it better. You may even see that he has a legitimate complaint.

If none of this works, ask him, “how do you want this conversation to end?” This is another way to get him to think in a way that isn’t complaining but problem-solving in nature.

Next week we’ll consider the person who says little and withholds what s/he is thinking … mum’s the word.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Professional Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Stress for Success
January 10, 2006

You can run with the bulls rather than be run over

Pain-in-the-neck people are found in all races, religions, and both genders. And they all have the same power: your predictable reaction. Those who’ve used difficult behavior to get their way understand that the law of averages dictates that most people will react predictably. So your challenge is to find a different way to deal with them that brings about a better outcome.

First, there are three things you need to do better:

• Don't take the difficult behavior personally
• Approach professionally
• Focus on problem solving vs. personalities

How do you not take the difficult behavior personally? People who are good at this use the next two items to help them; they approach the difficult person professionally and focus on problem solving.

They do this partly by being in control of what they’re thinking about the difficult person and her behavior. This week we’ll look at how to deal with the Bulls in your life; those who come out charging and attacking, covertly or overtly. When you're frightened by a Bull and thinking something like, “how can I get out of here”, you’re giving off nonverbal signals of intimidation, a green light to a Bull to attack. Think assertive thoughts to increase your success.

To handle any difficult person it helps to better understand her. Bulls usually

• are frustrated for some reason.
• see their targets as inferior so feel free to be abusive, abrupt and intimidating.
• use manipulation, anger, aggression, blaming, and other in-your-face strategies.
• need to be right and to be in control.
• lose others’ cooperation, honest feedback, and friendship because of their tactics.

A very challenging Bull in the workplace could be your boss. The Workplace Bullying and Drama Institute in Bellingham, Washington conducted interviews and came up with four types of Bully Bosses.

• The Snake is the most common. She’s a Jekyll and Hyde who trashes you behind your back while smiling to your face.
• The Screamer is a fist-pounder who thrives on public displays of anger. Since this type of person is less likely to succeed in the workplace he’s less common.
• The Nit-picker uses insinuation and insults to chip away at an your confidence.
• The Gate-keeper is cold and controlling, plays favorites by helping some workers succeed while sabotaging others.

To have greater success with Bulls:

• Give her time to run down and let off steam. Paraphrase her. If she doesn't run down, jump in when she takes a breath.
• Get her attention; stand up or sit down, use her name, maintain direct eye contact.
• Show your serious intentions; “I see this is important to you, let's talk about it.”
• Present your ideas assertively and refuse to argue.
• Expose what seems to be manipulative behavior. “I feel I’m being manipulated. What’s going on?”
• Act professionally and be as friendly as possible.

Helpful as these steps can be, what's important is not what you say but how you say it. Your reaction is determined by your conscious and unconscious thinking. Affirm your rights with this person, such as, “I have the right to stand up for myself.” Fake it until you make it. If you’re more aggressive yourself you may need to affirm the other person’s rights and/or to affirm your desired behavior, “I’m avoiding arguments”.

Next week we’ll look at another difficult personality type, the Chronic Complainer.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Professional Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.

Stress for Success
January 3, 2006

Change your own approach when dealing with difficult people

Wouldn’t it be great if difficult people were easier to get along with; if he’d pull his own weight at work, if she’d quit being so bossy; if everyone would just shape up?

What’s inherently unproductive and stressful about this? If you answered that it implies the difficult person, who’s beyond your control, must change you answered correctly! Yet how many of us keep reacting to our difficult person in the same way hoping for a different outcome? Someone has said that this is the definition of insanity (which, of course, it isn’t but you get the point).

Too much focus on how you wish that person would miraculously change makes you a very stressful victim to him, grumbling about and waiting for him to improve. Good luck!

The bottom line rule in getting a better outcome with anyone, difficult or not, is to change what you’re doing. This will almost always (not always) elicit a change from him. It may not bring about the outcome you want so you may need to change your approach a few times to get closer. (And let’s face it, interaction skills only increase your batting average; they don’t ensure success all of the time.)

All difficult people have the same power. Gratefully it’s something over which you have ultimate control; your typical reaction. That Sherman Tank of a boss knows you’ll back down. The Sniper who takes passive-aggressive pot shots knows you won’t blow his cover. This is an important reason to change your response to encourage a different outcome.

For example, you’ve discovered that one of your coworkers has put down your project to others behind your back. Because you don’t want to get the person who told you about this into trouble you say nothing.

His power is your predictable reaction; you let it slide. What would happen if you didn’t? What would happen if you exposed his manipulation by saying something like, “Stan, I understand you have a problem with my project. Would you like to discuss it?”

Either he’ll deny he has a problem or he’ll come right out and say what it is. If he denies it you could request that if he does have a problem in the future to please speak up so it can be dealt with. If he tells you what’s wrong with your project you’d better be prepared to deal with it --- non-defensively, preferably.

In general, when dealing with any difficult person remember that your predictable reaction is that person’s power over you. Identify what that is and commit to changing it based on your positive goal in the situation. If you don’t know how to change your reaction, model your behavior on others who handle him well.

Specifically, in dealing with a Sniper:

• Consider seeking out his opinion about your ideas and encourage him to be honest with you. Often Snipers aren’t assertive enough to openly express themselves so giving him a comfortable forum in which to speak up may circumvent his typical sniping.
• Expose what you think his intention or meaning is when he’s sniping and encourage him to speak openly not covertly.
• Involve others in dealing with his objections.

In the next weeks I’ll explore ideas of dealing with other difficult personality types and how you can change your style with them vs. wishing and hoping they’ll change.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Professional Coach in Lee County. E-mail her at or call 239-693-8111 for information about her workshops on this and other topics or to invite her to speak to your organization.