The most common kind of question that my clients ask me, concerns their puzzlement over behavior they deal with at work (or at home), that makes no sense. There’s clearly no rationale explanation for the behavior and it leaves my clients frustrated and feeling helpless. They give people feedback, they tell them what’s inappropriate, and what needs to change. But what’s most frustrating, is that the behavior does change, for a relatively short period of time; and then reverts back to what is was.
Some examples are: Bullying; whose goal , verbally or non-verbally, is to intimate others so they’re compliant and unquestioning.
Controlling; crossing the line, from teaching and demonstrating, to micro-managing every step and action of a process
Withholding (often known as Shyness); not sharing one’s thoughts,in the service of making others work hard to get essential information
Arguing; turning every interaction adversarial and stressful
Gossiping; using information about other people to get validation
Caretaking; unnecessarily doing things for others, to make yourself appear superior
In order to deal effectively and efficiently, with destructive communicators, you need to understand the core principles of interpersonal communication:
All communication is purposeful. There is no accidental communication. This doesn’t mean that it’s all conscious.
Heathy, productive communication is direct, short, and to the point. Unhealthy, unproductive communication is indirect, drawn-out, and circuitous.
The goal of all communication, is either to connect with others, or protect one from others. (I owe this gem of an insight to Jim Blackburn, a former colleague, who was one of the most direct communicators I ever worked with.)
If you want to find out what the purpose of counterproductive communication is, ask yourself what it’s impact is, on the receiver; and the impact will never be what it appears to be on the surface. For example, the behavior of bullying is not intended to gain control and demand submission, It is, on the contrary, to be left alone and isolated. How do we know that? What’s the impact on others of a bully. They want nothing to do with him and want to minimize any interaction. Why would a bully want to create that outcome? I have never, in all my work, encountered a bully who did not grow up abandoned, either physically or emotionally, and who didn’t decide that it was up to him to take care of himself, and that it was fruitless and pointless to ask anyone for help. Inside of them, bullies are isolates and loners – and very sad people.
So, how do we deal with destructive communicators? First, we give them real time feedback on their impact. “It feels like, to me, that you just as soon have me go away. Is that accurate?” Don’t expect the bully to have a conscious idea of what you’re talking about. (They most likely will look at you like you come from a distant planet where every one looks like Sigmund Freud.) Then tell them that you got the message, and in spite of it, you still want to get to know them, and work with them. Once the initial shell-shock is over, it is imperative to bring the interaction back to relationships: “It’s clear to me, that if you keep dealing with people in the way that you always have, you will most likely undermine and destroy those relationships that could be very beneficial to you. Think about it, and let’s talk again.”
The best way to think about communicating with destructors, is to look at it like planting seeds. I never expect clients (or non-clients) to have conversion experiences after meeting with me. If fact, I expect them to feel puzzled and, often, angry. And that’s good. It will give the seeds the opportunity to either grow or die. And it will make your decision, about moving forward or not, that much easier. I fully understand that what I recommend can sound arduous and even scary. Having lived this for many years, the payoff in seeing people who are hurting themselves, turn their lives around, is inestimable.