People who are bullying or are abrasive are frightened. Shouting, tantrums, threatening, and punishing behaviors are fear-based behaviors*. So, if you want to talk with an abrasive person, then you have to know what they’re afraid of and defuse those fears to increase trust and decrease tension.
While it’s neither fair nor right for the target of abrasive behavior to have to do the work of decreasing tension and building trust, nor is it fair or right for the target to be burdened with stopping abrasive and bullying behaviors, it is a fact of our lives and the more tools the more opportunities to improve life.
Interestingly, the same knowledge and skills required for successful selling can help identify what people are afraid of and what can be done to increase trust.
Uncovering what makes people afraid:
Jim Cathcart, author of Relationship Selling** and a leading research psychologist studies behavioral styles. He determined there are four basic behavioral styles based on two continuums: 1-how direct people are and 2-how open people are. He combines these to identify 4 basic behavioral styles and then identifies the characteristics associated with each style.
Why is this so important when crafting a conversation with an abrasive person or a bully? Well, because if you know what increases fear and tension YOU can connect in a way that is empathetic and avoids fear triggers and increases trust.
Styles 1 & 2: Task-Oriented & Self-contained:
1. The ‘Dominant Director’ – is Self-contained (not open) but Direct. This person is fast/decisive, fears loss of control, will dictate when tense. He values productivity, gains security when in control, wants to be successful, needs you to support his goals, is practical, needs to be in charge, and once he’s made a decision, that’s it.
2. The ‘Cautious Thinker’ – is Self-contained (not open) and Indirect. This person is systematic, fears embarrassment will avoid when tense. To gain their trust you have to be prepared, credible, supportive and precise. Cautious thinkers don’t like surprises and measure worth through accuracy and productivity.
Styles 3 & 4: Relationship oriented & Open:
3. The ‘Steady Relater’ – is Open but Indirect. This person is slow but easy, fears confrontation will acquiesce when tense, seeks attention, wants connection, is a conformist, wants to be liked and makes considered decisions.
4. The ‘Interactive Socializer’ – is Open and Direct. This person is spontaneous, relationship oriented, fears loss of prestige, is sarcastic and attacking when tense, seeks recognition and status, wants to be admired and makes spontaneous decisions.
Applying this model:
Say you want to talk to an abrasive person who is the ‘Dominant Director’. Dominant Directors fear loss of control, are dictators and value productivity and success. Focus on and supporting their goals, frame your conversations based on goals and productivity, be practical and remind them they’re in charge, avoid arguing about their final decisions – final decisions are final. They will respond to accomplishments and respect those who like competition and focus on the win. But, since they are hard-pressed to change their mind once a decision is made, it will be difficult if they have decided you should be their target.
How about the ‘Interactive Socializer’: Interactive socializers have a self-perception of being open and easy to get along with, when you cross them they will be sarcastic, you’ll have to be flexible with them support their status, be stimulating and admiring. Be sure to acknowledge their accomplishments and compliment them. If you are disingenuous, they will know it and attack you. You have a better chance of changing their opinion of you so meet all deadlines, support your ideas with documentation and be patient while they decide.
Remember no system for understanding human behavior is foolproof but if you can determine someone’s type based on the Cathcart scale, you have some real information to use when crafting your relationship with an abrasive person. It’s very powerful to create a productive relationship and calm the fears of another and especially so when it comes to working with an abrasive person. Finally notice who gets along with the abrasive person and you’ll see this model in action.
*Of course, some bullying is instrumental (wherein someone’s trying to WIN through destruction) but this advice isn’t for the instrumental bullying scenario.
*For more information on Cathcart’s model and more details about the 4 behavior styles read: Cathcart, J. 1990. Relationship Selling: The Key to Getting and Keeping Customers