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What Motivates Difficult People

When a person acts disruptively in the workplace, coworkers are often quick to label that person as difficult.

When a person acts disruptively in the workplace, coworkers are often quick to label that person as difficult.

But in most cases, it’s not people that are difficult, but rather their behavior. People will often use difficult behavior if, in the past, it’s helped them get what they want or need. It’s easier to understand difficult people if you can identify the reasons behind their behavior.

The difficult people in your office probably don’t think they’re difficult. In fact, they probably think you’re the difficult one. After all, you’re what’s standing between them and what they want. But if you change your reaction to reflect their behavior types, they may start to think of you as being more reasonable, and in turn, change their reactions and behavior. Realizing that changing your behavior can help to change theirs can help you more easily combat difficult behavior.

In order to deal with a person’s difficult behavior, it helps to understand what the person wants and needs. However, identifying someone’s wants and needs may not always be possible. Identifying intent, or what the person hopes to accomplish with his behavior, can be easier. If you have a difficult relationship with a coworker, it may be helpful to ask the person’s opinion about why the relationship is difficult. 

Doing this helps to create a feeling of being in control. If you choose this approach, it’s important to remember that you may not always like what you hear. You need to be able to really listen without taking it personally. By listening to the words and not just reacting, you may find clues to your coworker’s motivations and needs.

The most common reason for difficult behavior is that someone’s needs are not being met. And it’s not just about physical needs, but also psychological needs, such as the need for control, recognition, or respect. If somebody has been rewarded for difficult behavior in the past by having his needs met, he has no incentive to change. 

For example, if every time a coworker interrupts you, you stop what you’re doing to listen, the coworker will probably continue to behave this way. Dealing with the difficult behavior of others isn’t easy, and you shouldn’t expect instant results. Changing someone’s behavior takes time.

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