Difficult behavior is always a sign that there is an unfulfilled need. Most of the time, everybody focuses on the desires the difficult people express and not on their needs, while the difficult people are so stuck on what they want that they are not at all in a position to fulfill their own needs.
That can be changed by you helping them find what they need and by helping them get it.
The following technique was developed by observing 2- and 3-year-old kids. At the age of 2, they start with the question phase. Here is a typical discussion I have had with my own children and many kids I have worked with.
“It’s a card game?”
“What’s a card game?”
“It’s a pack of cards with things printed on them that we use to play a matching game”.
“What’s a matching game?”
“It’s a game where you have two cards that look exactly the same and you have to find them out of all the cards”.
“Why do we have to play a matching game?”
“It’s good for our brain. We learn to recognize things that are the same and others that are different”.
“Why is it good for our brain?”
And this conversation can go on forever if I could manage answering questions forever. The trick is always to answer calmly. It is a game, a very healthy game, and children learn a lot from it. You could say that this type of questioning is difficult behavior, but I think it is your reaction that makes it a learning experience or a difficult behavior. If you answer calmly, it is a learning experience. If you answer with anger, it becomes a difficult behavior.
It is the same with adults. They need to learn something they do not know (yet). They need to learn what their needs are, and only then, they can fulfill them.
One of the best tips is to ask them “Why?” and “What?” These questions may not trigger the right answer and most of the time they will be puzzled by this, but if you keep asking even when they do not answer you, the answer will come from within.
Difficult people are not easy to manage, but they are not stupid. If you ask, “Why are you behaving like this?” or “What will happen if we do it differently?” enough times, they will start asking themselves these questions. Generally, our motives are not very clear to us. Most of us do not know why we behave the way we do, which is not that much of a problem, because we watch other people’s reactions to us and learn that this is not a good strategy. But difficult people cannot read that their behavior is uncomfortable to others so they need to learn their motives in order to stop it.
The “Why?” and “What?” questions function as “Stop & think” signs and force people to go into hidden places and find the reason for this behavior.
A conversation with an “expert” would go like this (remember, the questions are genuine, not sarcastic. They are calm and kind):
“Tell me, Mark, why do you have to tell everyone that you know everything about property?”
“Because I do know everything about property”.
“I know that you know lots about property. Why is it important that everyone else knows it?”
“So they can ask me questions if they need to”.
“Why do they need to ask you questions?”
“So they can buy the right property”.
“What happens if they buy a property without asking you?”
“They will make a mistake and regret it?”
“What happens if they make a mistake and regret it?”
“They will blame me for not giving them the right advice”.
“Why would they blame you if they didn’t ask you in the first place?”
Remember, the answer does not matter. You need to keep asking until the difficult person gives up. When they give up, it is a sign they have learned something about themselves and their motives.
Here is another example of a conversation with a Dinosaur:
“Tell me Jill, why do you always talk about the past as if it was the best thing?”
“Because I think it was better in the past”.
“I can understand that there are some things that were better in the past. Why do you have to repeat it again and again?
“I don’t repeat it again and again. We talked about something and I shared my opinion”.
“Why are you trying to convince everyone that everything that’s happening in our time is not good and that the old way of doing things is the right way?”
“Because I think it is the right way”.
“I know that you think that. What would you get if everyone thought exactly like you?”
“Maybe I wouldn’t have to convince them”.
“Why do you want to convince them?”
“I want them to be able to see that modern things are not better”.
“And what would they do if they saw that modern things were not better?”
Again, the idea is to keep the conversation, to keep asking “Why?” and “What?” – “What do you get by…” and “What if…” or “What if not…”.
When using this technique, do not be tempted to tell the other person that others do not feel comfortable with his or her behavior, because this will trigger their defense mechanism and will not allow the difficult person to examine his or her motives. Telling difficult people that everyone thinks they are difficult may be the truth, but it is not helpful. A person in denial will not be impressed by it and start blaming everyone else for his or her own behavior.
A good conversation is a conversation that leads to one of the 4 needs, something like “I want to feel that someone needs me”, “I want to feel important”, “I want to make the conversation interesting and fun” or “I just want to feel safe”.
Remember, be like a child that asks without judgment. Ask in a curious way. Ask to know what is going on in this person’s head and never ever use sarcasm in your questions. Sarcasm is a form of violence and when you use it, you become a difficult person yourself.
Examples of sarcastic questions:
- “Do you really think anyone cares that you know a lot about property?”
- “Why do you think anyone cares about your knowledge in science?”
- “Who do you think considers your behavior funny?”
Notice that sarcastic questions are not questions, although they have a question tone at the end. They judgmental statements disguised as questions.
If this is a child, this process is even easier. Children answer without many filters.
“Chloe, why did you make fun of Sarah?”
“She didn’t play with me in the playground”.
“Why didn’t she play with you in the playground?”
“She went to play with her cousin”.
“Why did she want to play with her cousin?”
“I don’t know”.
“Were you disappointed she went to play with her cousin?”
“Yes. She always plays only with me”.
“Do you like playing with Sarah?”
“Yes, but not when she’s not playing with me”.
“Why do you like playing with Sarah?”
“She is my best friend”.
“What happens if Sarah sometimes wants to play with someone else?”
“Then I’m by myself in the playground and it’s not fun”.
This conversation easily directs towards, “What can you do to feel better in the playground when Sarah is playing with someone else or when she is sick?” which will fill up the tank of love and connection.
Many parents, while helping a difficult child, fall in the trap of stating their conclusion, something like, “So you made fun of Sarah because you were jealous”, which I think is unnecessary. These parents say, “I want her to be able to see the connection between the two. She needs to understand that she’s made fun of Sarah as a result of her jealously”. True, there is value in understanding this, but it is better to focus on the missing need, i.e. having someone to play with when her best friend is not there, and not on the “bad” behavior.
Generally, focusing on the negative behavior makes it grow. It is better to focus on the good behavior and if there is no good behavior, focus on fulfilling the need.
Using questions, it is also important to explore the difficult child’s (or person’s) own solution, rather than giving advice, because the real aim of the conversation is empowerment of the other person.
Join me next week for learning about the 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