As you have seen in the previous post, every difficult behavior can be mapped to an unfulfilled need that the “difficult person” cannot find other ways to fulfill. Each need is a strong belief that they must have something, they cannot live without it and they can only get it by “being difficult”.
Now that you understand the missing feeling that difficult people are searching for, you are probably asking yourself, “What do I do to give it to them?”
One of the biggest challenges of helping and supporting difficult people is the fear that giving them what they want will make them think their obnoxious behavior is a good strategy of getting what they want and it will only make things worse. I have heard this claim millions of times when working with children – “If a child is behaving in a bad way and you give him what he wants, he learns that this is a legitimate way to get what he wants”.
Well, that is not the case.
Focus on needs, not desires
There is a big difference between giving children what they say they want and giving them what they need. Much like difficult people, children do not know that they behave the way the do to fulfill a need. If they knew, they would give themselves that thing without the difficult behavior.
If you focus on giving them what they need, then after a while, when the need is fulfilled, they will calm down and ease their demands. I am not saying, “Give them what they want”, I am saying, “Give them what they really need”. Give them what they are missing, because they do not know how to give it to themselves and may not even know what it is.
When you are afraid that giving difficult people what they want will make things worse, you are focusing on their desires, not on their needs. You are focusing on what they say they want and not on what they are truly missing. After all, if they knew what they needed and could give it themselves, they would not be difficult in the first place.
Think of a need as a tank. We all have four tanks of needs – certainty, variety, significance and love & connection – and when people behave in a difficult way, it is a sign the tank is not filled up to the buoy. Each tank has a size, shape, a buoy and a substance to put in it. The properties of the tank depend on our character traits, upbringing and circumstances in life. No two people, not even twins, have the same size and shape tanks.
When you make the decision to help someone with his or her needs, there are 3 risks involved that could backfire and make the relationship more problematic:
- Thinking your way is the right way
- Blaming or taking blame
- Thinking that helping gives you extra rights
One size does not fit all
If you find yourself judging someone for their “empty tank”, you send a message that all tanks must be the same and there is something wrong with the difficult person’s tank. This will only increase the need and make things worse.
Judgment is not a solution. Avoid judgment at all costs! Your size tank and how empty or full it is does not mean yours is right and theirs is not. It only means you are in a better position to help.
Do not confuse responsibility with blame
Sometimes, when you decide to help a difficult person, your desire to help them crosses boundaries and you may feel that it is your responsibility (this is particularly true when you are the parent or the boss). Many who deal with difficult people think that there is something wrong they must be doing to make the other person behave that way. This is confusing taking responsibility with taking blame.
Blaming yourself for someone else’s behavior interferes with your ability to help. The blame game is not healthy at all, so if you want to help and you think you can help, do it without taking any blame on yourself.
Also, make sure not to allow the difficult person to use your help to start their own blame game. Difficult people are in denial and they tend to blame others for their own problems. They might tell you they behave in an obnoxious way because of something you have done, said or have not said, so be very careful, because this makes for an abusive relationship and puts both sides in needy positions.
Helping someone does not make you superior
The other side of the blame game is feeling power over the difficult person and abusing this power. When you understand that difficult behavior is a sign of weakness, there is always the risk of using this understanding and knowledge to gain power over the difficult person, possibly for revenge.
As I said, being around difficult people is not easy and can be very energy consuming. Those who cannot take the easy way of avoiding the presence of a difficult person have a build-up of anger, resentment, discomfort and, in extreme cases, inadequacy. This may lead to desire for revenge when helping the difficult person.
Revenge is an unhealthy feeling that could turn you into an angry and difficult person yourself. Remember, when you are angry, you cannot help! To be able to give patience, kindness and love, you must have enough of them to share and revenge only empties your tank.
Another person’s weakness does not make you stronger. That is only an illusion and that may backfire, make your relationship worse and consume more energy from you than before. If you decide to help, help with grace!
Join me next week for the most effective way to help a difficult person – a holistic approach to helping difficult people fill up their need tanks.
This post is part of the series How to Manage Difficult People:
- How to manage difficult people: Energy Consumers
- How to manage difficult people: Types of difficulties
- How to Manage Difficult People: More Difficult People
- How to Manage Difficult People: Who is Not Difficult
- How to Manage Difficult People: What are They Missing?
- How to Manage Difficult People: What They Really Need
- How to Manage Difficult People: Helping a Difficult Person
- How to Manage Difficult People Using "Why?" and "What?"
- How to Manage Difficult People: A Holistic Approach