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The following blog is provided by Dr. Rick Brinkman. It is a companion to his interview on Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future titled How to Bring Out the Best In People at Their Worst that aired on April 28th, 2020.
Conflict can take many forms. It can be in your face, or passive aggressive behind the back. It can be caused by a specific context like meetings where typically assertive people talk too much while others drop out. The first step to successfully exiting a conflict or even better preventing it in the first place, is to understand why people act the way they do. In order to do that I would like to introduce you to the Lens of Understanding, from our book, “Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst.”
When you understand why people act the way they do, then you will be empowered to transform and prevent conflict behaviors. Let’s examine behavior through the Lens of Understanding. We have a green Cooperation Zone and people have 4 intents operating within them: the intent to Get Things Done, to Get Things Right, to Get Along with People, and to Get Appreciated by people. Behaviorally speaking if a person is in a Get it Done mode they will be focused on the task at hand and become more assertive to make things happen. If things are not getting done and perceive others as wasting time, then they have a tendency to go into the yellow Caution Zone and will become more controlling because if they can take over they can make things happen. Sometimes the fact that they take charge and move things forward is not a problem but a solution. That really depends on how it is done. People can also go into what we call the red Danger Zone and their behavior is more destructive and can easily become a Tank. A Tank declares martial law and runs right over you. Life is really simple to them. You are part of the solution or you are eliminated. They may rip you apart personally, but the irony is, “it’s nothing personal”. You just happen to be in the way of an end result and so must be eliminated.
However, control has other expressions. When people have suppressed anger or resentment, Sniping is often the result. At a meeting their attack is hidden in put down humor, snide remarks and sarcasm. This can be to your face or also behind your back. Sabotage and malicious gossip are also versions of this behavior. A third controlling behavior is Know-it-All. They control through knowledge because they really know a lot, but they are closed minded to everyone else’s possible contribution. In a meeting they can take the group down endless irrelevant tangents.
If we shift gears to the intent to Get it Right, we find people still focused on the task but less assertive because they must slow things down to make sure all the details are covered. If the people around them are not paying attention to accuracy, then they can move into the yellow zone and become more perfectionist. The positive of that is all the details are covered but if they go too far into the red danger zone, they can get to a point where no one including themself can meet their high standard and then begin to feel helpless or hopeless. When people feel helpless, Whining is the result. When people feel hopeless, Negativity results. What they both have in common is they speak in generalizations that “everything is wrong, nothing is right, and it’s always that way.” It is these generalized problems that drive everyone around them crazy, because the first step to problem solving is specifics. You can’t solve a generalization.
Other people in the face of that unattainable perfection just get frustrated and give up. That’s when you hear, “Fine, do it your way. Don’t come crying to me when it doesn’t work out.” From that point they become the Nothing person and give up.
You also get Nothing behavior from a different area of the Lens. Out of the intent to Get Along with people you get people who are friendly and helpful. Here the yellow zone is all about get approval from others. And since if you don’t have something nice to say, then don’t say it at all, Nothing behavior is a common result. Agreeable Yes behavior also stems from this motivation. Out of the desire to please and get approval, people don’t consider their own needs but just say yes to whatever anyone else wants. Maybe behavior can also originate from this zone. We have all told a salesperson, “I’ll think about it.” Were you really planning on thinking about it? No, it was approval-oriented behavior. Passive aggressive behavior also originates out of this zone. They are nice to your face but become a Sniper behind the back.
Shifting mental gears to the intent to Get Appreciated by people, we find the focus is still on people but behavior tends to be more assertive because what goes hand in hand with appreciation is a desire to contribute to others. But if they are not getting the appreciation they feel they deserve, their behavior gets more attention seeking. The red zone version can be a temper tantrum or what we call the Grenade. It is different than a Tank attack in that the Tank is focused on a specific person and you know what the issue is. When a Grenade blows up they do so in 360 degrees, indiscriminately and everyone gets hit. You are more likely to hear things like, “It’s the government’s fault! That’s the problem with the world today.” and other statements that make no sense given the present circumstances. A Tank is demanding action. A Grenade is demanding attention.
What you also get out of a need for attention is another kind of Sniper; friendly fire. These are people who like you and use put down humor or teasing as a way of showing their affection. There is no ill intent, but it can still have painful consequences.
Last but not least another behavior with an extreme need for attention is Think-They-Know-it-All behavior. Here you have someone acting like they know what they are talking about, but they don’t. You get one-upmanship in this category. If you had a great vacation, they had a better one. If you were sick, they were sicker. If you had a big inauguration, they had a bigger inauguration.
Tank, Sniper, Know-it-all, Think-They-Know-it-All, Grenade, Yes person, Maybe person, Nothing person, No person, and Whiner are the top ten-problem behaviors people face. But the good news is communication is like a phone number and there is a “right number” behaviorally that you can dial that can pull people out of their stress response and back into the normal zone of behavior.
Detailed strategies for all the behaviors are beyond the scope of this article but are certainly available in the book, “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand”, published by McGraw-Hill.
Download a free Lens of Understanding and see a live presentation of the Lens of Understanding in Dr. Brinkman’s trademark Educating through Entertainment style here.
Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future, via iTunes, TuneIn, Stitcher, Spotify, Amazon Music, Audible, iHeartRADIO, and NPR One. Stay up-to-date on new shows airing by following the Innovative Leadership Institute LinkedIn.
About the Author
Dr. Rick Brinkman is best known for his Conscious Communication® expertise conveyed to millions of people via keynotes and trainings in his trademark Educating through Entertainment style. He has performed over 4000 programs in 18 countries.He is the coauthor of six McGraw Hill books including the 2,000,000 copy international bestseller: Dealing With People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst. Which has been translated into 25 languages. His latest book is: Dealing with Meetings You Can’t Stand, Meet Less and Do More. His clients have included: the Astronauts at NASA, LucasFilm, Sony Pictures, the FBI, Defense Department, Lockheed Martin, Adobe and many more. He has been featured as a communication expert on CNN, the Wall St. Journal, the New York Times, and O Magazine.
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