Dealing with difficult people

Jan 09 2012 by Dan Bobinski Print This Article

Did you know that by determining two things about someone you can adapt your style to get better communications? You've got to know a little about the four basic styles, but it doesn't take much to improve how you get along with others if you know what you're looking for.

After conducting several DISC Communication Workshops recently, I received a number of follow-up emails from people who told me the information helped renew their passion for their jobs. With that kind of feedback, it only seems right to keep getting the word out on how to use the DISC Communications model.

To pinpoint someone's primary style, start by picturing a vertical line - a spectrum, if you will - that has "task focus" on the top half and "people focus" on the bottom half. The idea is to first determine if someone is more focused on accomplishing tasks, or on the people doing the tasks.

For example, in the original Star Trek series, Captain James T. Kirk is primarily focused on accomplishing tasks. The same is true about his science officer, Mr. Spock, as well as the characters Jason Bourne and Dr. Temperance "Bones" Brennan in Bones. These characters are in the upper (task) end of the Task-People spectrum.

At the other end of the spectrum we find "people-people" such as Robin Williams, Andy Griffith, Reese Witherspoon, and the character of Pam Halpert from The Office. It's not that these people ignore getting tasks accomplished, they just focus more on people doing the tasks.

It can be hard to decide because some people are borderline, but based on your interaction with a person, try to determine if he or she is more focused on tasks or the people doing the tasks.

After you've answered that first question, determine if a person is quicker to make high-risk decisions or whether he or she prefers slower decisions, especially if the decision involves risk. This time, imagine a horizontal spectrum in which "higher risk / quicker decisions" is on the right, and "lower risk / slower decisions" is on the left.

Using our previous examples, Captain Kirk, Jason Bourne, Robin Williams, and Reese Witherspoon tend to make quicker decisions when risk is involved. Conversely, characters such as Mr. Spock, Pam Halpert, Dr. "Bones" Brennan, and Andy Griffith are slower to make decisions, especially when risk is involved.

Now take these two spectrums and overlay them so that we form four distinct quadrants. In the upper right quadrant we have people more focused on tasks who make quicker decisions in the face of risk. This quadrant includes people like Captain Kirk and Jason Bourne.

The late Columbia University psychologist William Marston (who created the DISC model) called these people "dominant," because they wanted to dominate any problem they encountered. They prefer you stick to business when talking with them, leaving personal chit chat for later. They also prefer brevity, as they don't like dealing with details. When talking with them, be brief, get to what needs to be done, and then move along.

In the lower right quadrant we have people like Robin Williams and Reese Witherspoon, who make quick decisions in the face of risk and are more focused on the people in a given situation. Marston called such people "influencers" because they enjoy influencing others to their way of thinking. Due to their strong focus on people, influencers can lose track of time and be forgetful when it comes to work details, so it's best to put details in writing. Also leave time for social interaction and keep them engaged by making activities fun and enjoyable.

The lower left quadrant includes "people-people" who prefer taking their time with decisions that involve risk. This is the largest group in society (45 percent of the population) and includes people like Andy Griffith and the character of Pam Halpert. They tend to make friendships slowly, but those friendships develop deeply and strongly, as loyalty is very important to them.

Marston observed that these people prefer a "steady" work pace, as they do not like a lot of change or conflict. It's best to talk with them using a non-confrontational, easy-going approach. And, don't expect them to have quick answers, because they like time to think when making decisions.

Finally we have the upper-left quadrant of task-focused people who also like slower decisions. Mr. Spock and Dr. "Bones" Brennan fall into this quadrant. They are very conscientious of rules and strive for accuracy, so when talking with such people be objective and make the conversation as non-emotional as possible. They often debate facts and data, and they'll want time to analyze their decisions for accuracy, so give them that time.

DISC is a universal way of recognizing styles to improve your communications. My strong recommendation is become a student of DISC. It's well worth the time because you'll improve your effectiveness with others - even the "difficult" people.

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About The Author

Dan Bobinski
Dan Bobinski

Daniel Bobinski teaches teams and individuals how to use emotional intelligence and how to create high impact training. He’s also a best-selling author, a popular speaker, and he loves helping teams and individuals achieve workplace excellence