Difficult Communication Styles

Why most people favor the styles that mirror their own

Photo by olly18 on depositphotos

Expecting the Best from Difficult People

Why do average workers become exceptional when they work with one boss, but remain average when they work with a different boss? If you were to ask an exceptional worker this question, he’d probably reply that his boss expects the best from him. And if you were to ask an average worker this question, he’d probably tell you that his boss doesn’t expect him to do anything more than what he’s paid to do.

The concept is the same when you’re dealing with difficult people in the workplace. Expect the worst from them, and they won’t disappoint. Expect the best, and you’ll get more. To expect the best, you must erase those old, negative expectations you have about the difficult people in your life. The following methods will help you get the best from a difficult person at work.

1. Assume the person is not trying to be difficult

One method for expecting the best from a difficult person at work is to assume he doesn’t know he’s being difficult. In the absence of full evidence, try to assume the best of this person.

2. Attribute the desired behavior

Another method for getting the best from a difficult person at work is to attribute the desired behavior to the difficult person, even if the person isn’t displaying that behavior at the time.

For example, attribute behaviors such as being evenhanded, fair-minded, and understanding to the person. This may encourage the person to then exhibit those behaviors, because if the person doesn’t, he or she would risk not living up to your advance praise.

3. Reinforce positive behavior

The third method is to reinforce the positive behavior you attributed to the difficult person. For example, when the individual acts in an evenhanded and fair-minded manner in the future, you should reinforce that behavior.

Difficult people sometimes need to see their positive characteristics through the eyes of others before they can find the courage to change. You’re assuming the best when you say you aren’t sure that he knows he’s a difficult person.

When you thank him for being patient, you’re attributing to him the behavior you’d like to see him demonstrate. When he does demonstrate that behavior, you should reinforce it by drawing attention to it. Remember to expect the best from difficult people, and in response, they just might try to deliver their best.

The Communication Styles of Difficult People

To communicate effectively with a difficult person in your workplace, you first have to know something about that person’s communication style. There are four basic communication styles you’ll encounter in your workplace — concise, analytical, nurturing, and creative.

Each style is fairly self-descriptive. For example, a person with a concise style uses as few words as possible to communicate, and may be seen as difficult to deal with because this person can be brusque. A person with an analytical style will ask lots of questions to gather information and must have all the facts to make a decision.

A person with a nurturing style will be friendly, sensitive, and proper, and will expect courtesy when communicating with others. And a person with a creative style will be full of energy and ideas, but may have trouble staying on topic.

When it comes to communication styles, most people favor the styles that mirror their own. But to communication as effectively as possible with co-workers, and especially with difficult people, you may have to vary your communication style to match the other person’s style. Follow the two steps listed here to implement this strategy, so you can communicate successfully with difficult co-workers.

1. Determine the difficult person’s communication style

You can determine the difficult person’s communication style by observing how he or she talks with others. Then simply match the characteristics the difficult person displays to the descriptions above to determine if the person uses a concise, analytical, nurturing, or creative communication style.

2. Communicate using a complementary style

The second step, communicating using a complementary style, requires you to set aside your preferred communication style and adopt one that complements the difficult person’s style. If you need to work better with the concise communicator, first think about what he’s like: He wants you to speak in quick, succinct words and sentences.

If you take forever to get to the point, he’s going to become irritated. A lot of people find the concise communicator “difficult” and take this person’s brusqueness personally. If you want to communicate effectively with him, don’t let his behavior irritate you. Instead, change the way you communicate with him. Be prepared, organized, brief, and confident.

Analytical communicators think linearly and often are conservative. They want to have all the facts before they make a decision. The word spontaneous probably isn’t in an analytical communicator’s vocabulary. And you may not find many analytical communicators at parties, since they prefer to be alone. If you’re having problems dealing with an analytical communicator, be specific, don’t skip around topics, and be deadline-driven.

To communicate effectively with a nurturing communicator, you need to be friendly and polite, since friendliness and acceptance are important to this person. You can — and should — maintain boundaries with this type of communicator, but don’t be abrupt or rude. When dealing with this person, be positive, patient, and personable, schedule time to chat, and be sure to recognize the person’s achievements.

Getting the attention of a creative communicator is always the first step to communicating well with him. He’s full of energy, and you’re going to have to raise your energy level to keep up with him.

On the surface, none of the four communication styles necessarily presents an opportunity for difficulty. However, when someone has a style that differs from yours, it’s easy for you to begin to perceive that person as difficult. And when someone takes a style to an extreme, communicating with that person can definitely become difficult. To work effectively with this person, it pays to determine how he or she communicates, and then use a complementary style.

A consultant, trainer and author specialized in management, corrections and industrial relations

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