Obstinate People

Three Rules for Dealing With Obnoxious People

Janice Maddox, www.sierrawriter.com

Many years ago I worked with a man who had a way of offending everybody he came into contact with. He would engage people in conversation and then subtly undermine them. I had just learned the “Three Rules of Communication” from a mentor and decided I would only communicate with this person using the new tricks I had been taught. It worked like magic. He was never able to get an in with me. Eventually, he stopped trying although he continued to successfully bait others in the office.

One day he said in a friendly tone, “I just can’t figure you out.” I thought to myself, “It is because I will only communicate with you using the Three Rules of Communication.” A few years later, I actually hired this person and became his boss. That was a management/hiring lesson learned for another post another day.

Don’t hire these people. Do use the rules of communication with these people, and stick to them. The three magical rules of engagement when interacting with somebody who wants your power are simply this:

1. Don’t answer a statement like a question.

2. Don’t answer an insincere question like a sincere question.

3. Just answer a question.

Do nothing but these three things.

People push our buttons because we give them openings by how we respond. Say you have a history with somebody who pushes your buttons and are involved in a discussion about an upcoming work meeting and they say, “You’ll probably be late.” Their statement is ludicrous, you’ve never been late, and so you point that out to them.

The obnoxious person than says something else, and you find yourself responding to that, or they laugh derisively. They roll their eyes. You have given them all of your power, by responding. You gave them an opening. These people expect the defensive response. You took the bait. Don’t answer a statement like a question when interacting with somebody who likes to undermine you, ever.

What do you do instead? You don’t respond. You don’t roll your eyes. You don’t make a disgusted sound. You don’t gloat. You don’t do anything. You sit in quiet, calm, unruffled dignity and do not respond. It was a statement. You don’t need to defend yourself to this person.

The particular type of person we are discussing expects us to give them an opening. When they don’t get the expected response, it is very uncomfortable for them. They are left holding the bag, because you didn’t take it from them. Their part of the interaction is left sitting in their lap like a big bag of smelly garbage. They will usually walk away at that point, sometimes in obvious discomfort.

This works the same with an insincere question that is obviously a dig. You don’t have to hand over any of your power or dignity to respond. It is not a sincere question. Don’t respond to it as if it were a sincere question.

The third rule is to just answer a question. For example, If you are in the sad and incredibly unfortunate situation of having an acrimonious relationship with an ex and you are discussing parental visitation arrangements and your ex says, “Are you going to be on time?” when you say you will arrive to pick your child up at 4:00 p.m. You may want to say, “Of course I’ll be there on time. I’ve never been late to pick her up. You’re the one that is always late…”

Don’t do it. If this is a person you’ve identified as somebody who gets under your skin, just answer the question with the same calm dignity as above. No glaring. You are peacefully and respectfully holding on to your power and saying, “I’m not giving this to you.” As discussed above, when they don’t get the response they are used to getting, they are left holding the bag, and it is awkward for them.

This corresponds to the art of Wu Wei in Taoism. Literally translated, Wu Wei means “without action.” Practicing the art of Wu Wei is going with the flow, as opposed to resisting. The Tao of Pooh states with other ways we fight fire with fire. When practicing Wu Wei, we fight fire with water.


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