Last week I talked about how emotional intelligence can help you deal with not-so-emotionally-intelligent kinds of people. And I made the point that talking to them about the problem isn’t always the wisest course of action, because with some people, raising the issue just makes ‘em madder.
So what to do in these cases? Probably the best advice comes from Buddhism, where it is said that the Buddha counseled us to only speak what is “true” and “useful.”
Let’s take the scenario I posited last week: Your boss dresses you down in a staff meeting for your bad habits. If your boss seems like a somewhat reasonable and reasonably sensitive guy, you could approach him and say, “I felt humiliated when you criticized my work habits at the staff meeting yesterday. If you have concerns about how I do my job, I’d prefer you speak to me in person about them.” And he might say something like, “Oh I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize I was being critical. Let’s set up a time for you and me to talk about what my concerns are, just one on one.”
Doesn’t that sound nice?
But if your boss is a hot head, if he’s unable to hear criticism, you’re more likely to get a response of denial, (“I wasn’t criticizing you!”) or blame (“don’t be so sensitive”) or sheer shuck-n-jive (“oh well I’m sorry you took offense, but I’m really trying to promote transparency in our office, which means we get the most value add from employees who are willing to be accountable for their professional behavior.”)
When you have a boss or a co-worker who’s like that, confronting them is not wise. It just makes them madder, which makes them get meaner. Reacting with emotion or with more “fighting words” is also not wise; many abusive people actually want to get a rise out of you, as it gives them an excuse to launch an attack (and thereby vent their own anger).
And so you need to find other options. First, you should examine their complaints to see how much of it is true. (I.e., in this case, have your work habits been deteriorating?) Second, if the situation is really bad you need to start thinking about what you can do to change the situation. That might include looking for a new job, trying to change the behavior the boss is criticizing, or working on more on stress reduction in the rest of your life.
Next up: Still more on dealing with difficult people in the workplace.