Tips to protect yourself and maintain your sanity
So you are in a meeting and it’s finally your chance to speak. You have an idea that you have been working on and you want to get this across. But you know there will be at least one person who will immediately cause dissent and shut down your idea even before it finishes taxiing and leaves for the runway.
This person is well respected amongst your peers and has strong opinions and a long heritage of being heard.
The problem is they are skillful at getting their way and influencing others with their negative talk. They are closed thinkers, quick to blame and throw scathing comments. For this reason, others know it would be foolish to put themselves in the line of fire and so a group majority forms. Your idea crashes and burns and the group goes with what feels safe. When this happens it sucks and worst still you start to question your own abilities.
If any of this sounds familiar and you can identify one or more individuals in your business or personal life. The chances are you are dealing with someone who is insecure and not as confident as it would appear. Unfortunately, in society, we automatically value and notice people who appear confident on the outside. They are naturally seen as influential and sometimes given more credence despite behaving in a way that we should really be questioning.
These people could be our leaders, peers, friends or family and for this reason, we sometimes have a tendency to put up with it and describe that person as just difficult. In many cases, these people are credible and highly competent, which masks their behaviour. As a consequence, they are offered a degree of leniency, where no one really questions their behaviour and what is being said.
Mainly because very few people relish confrontation, especially when it can be avoided.
I myself have fallen into that category of wanting to avoid confrontation, I remember working with one particular person who ticked many of the negative influential boxes described above. He was an ex-police force sergeant. So understandably he was used to using his authoritative tone to deal with people. Fast forward a number of years and this same tone has been carried forward into meetings. Say something he didn’t like or strongly disagreed with and you would be on the receiving end of a tongue lashing. Sometimes left feeling that it was a stupid idea in the first place! There have been many times in the past where I have watched and listened to ideas raised by others also crash and burn on his say so.
This said person often only saw the problems and reasons why we should not change or give something a go. On the one hand, you could argue that he was a realist and that it is always healthy to have a difference in opinion. How I felt was my problem, not his. All this is true and understanding the said person’s motivations and working out how best to collaborate is always part of the course.
But when that person’s opinion and influence constantly stifle progression and this keeps happening maybe it’s time to assess if something else is going on.
It is only recently I have become aware that when faced with such people the chances are their behaviour is the opposite of what they are portraying. They are overcompensating because of a lack of confidence and therefore reacting and playing out their fears for good reason.
Fundamentally at any point in time, we all sit on different parts of the change curve and a big part of constructively influencing is communication. But sometimes you are faced with a mountain to move no matter what strategies you used. Whether it is, pre-meeting alignment talks, seeking out allies. You know ultimately you are dealing with an insecure person, so you have to figure out other ways to work with them.
There is nothing wrong with being or feeling insecure, we all feel this at some point in our lives. It is natural and expected to feel anxious and uncertain about unfamiliar circumstances. Problems arise when this feeling is played out in a negative and poisonous way as per the examples below.
- An insecure person goes to great efforts promoting how important and big they are with the intention of coming across superior.
- They make excuses for everything and act like they know it all.
- They are defensive, quick to blame others and hide their own flaws.
- They are motivated by doing what feels good and stay in their comfort zone.
- They are judgmental and enjoy spreading gossip.
- They prefer to stick with the old ways and habits and will fight to keep things this way.
If we take a look at the other side of the coin of how a confident person behaves you will see they are the polar opposite. Confident people, on the other hand, behave in a way where they are.
- Open and willing to learn and view learning as growth.
- They give compliments and praise where due.
- They are willing to admit their mistakes and shortfalls.
- They are positive thinkers and willing to take risks.
- They can laugh at themselves
So now that we know the signs and symptoms of an insecure person how do you deal with them. With one word and that is.
It would be easy to say just cut them off and avoid working with them. That would be easy for us. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to make that choice and we are forced to grit our teeth and smile politely. In these situations, the ideas and tips below will help protect you and help keep your sanity.
- Stay true to you — Understand this behaviour is not about you, it’s about them. Remember in an attempt to feel superior they may go to great lengths to make you question your own abilities. Recognise the signs given in the examples above and avoid self-criticism. Keep being you and don’t let them change or devalue who you are. Try not to take things personally.
- Don’t engage in that behaviour — Easier said than done but it is easy to get drawn in and respond in the same way the insecure person is acting. Striking back and behaving in the same way, whilst it might be gratifying will only serve to worsen the relationship and exacerbate the situation. Stay calm and focus on doing what is right whilst noting the point below.
- Be sensitive — Yes this may feel like the last thing you want to do. But the said person is acting out in response to their fears and insecurities. They may be making your life tough but the chances are their life is tough for them. They are possibly caught in a spiral of needing validation and reassurance to feed their self-esteem. Acknowledge what they are saying, you may not agree with them. But by listening and offering some validation you will help diffuse any potentially explosive situation.
- Prepare — In the example, I gave above, I finally realised I was dealing with an insecure person. So I started to prepare and devise ways to work around potential objections. Watching, listening and observing what are push points and triggers helped immensely. If you can do the preparation to avoid the confrontation in the first place then you know you are on safe ground. Sometimes you will need to push a point and that is where your preparation comes in handy. Having allies who are warmed ahead of what you will say will help. Subtle changes like seating position in a meeting also help. Wherever possible if it can be helped avoid sitting directly opposite that person. People are more likely to be collaborative and pick up on body language cues when you are sat beside them or at any position other than face to face with a barrier such as a table between you.
In summary, the negative behaviours of insecure people are easy to spot if you listen and look for them. Don’t let other peoples insecurity devalue who you are. Try not to take their words and actions personally, remember they are playing out their own reality.