The Sniper–Workplace Communication: Handling Difficult People (A co-worker??)

The Sniper--handling difficult people in the workplace--communication skills

Who is the sniper in your office?  Say it isn’t YOU (right?)

Dear Dan:

I am working with someone (another female) that has a very twisted, sick sense of humor. All of her jokes are usually at someone else’s expense. She is not well-liked, but does an excellent job. She and I are “co-leaders” in a healthcare environment and our Operations Manager recently went out on medical leave leaving this person in charge. Where we used to be able to communicate effectively, she now feels the need to assign projects to me. This coming from e-mails we have both received…..and could normally discuss and determine which of us was going to do what. She literally makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up. I get very poor energy from her, and needless to say, I have given her permission to take all of of mine as I literally despise coming to work………Please help!

Stressed Out in Saratoga Springs

Dear Stressed:

Wow, sounds like you really are having a miserable time. Let me take one issue at a time:

Let’s look at who the sniper is:

For the sick jokes that are usually at someone else’s expense, it sounds as though she would be what we would call the sniper. We talk about snipers a lot in my on-site communication training seminars, because they are a common office energy vampire.  But never fear because there are communication strategies and communication skills you can use to shut the sniper down, and I will give you the tools–the words–you need.

Snipers take cheap shots at you in a public forum (when they wouldn’t behave the same way in private) and they mask their insults in humor. If they have exhibited this behavior many times it’s because somehow they’re getting the reward they’re looking for. That’s a simple rule of dealing with difficult people and energy vampire slaying: what gets rewarded gets repeated.

That said, a sniper usually gets rewarded by either getting away with their disrespectful behavior, or even worse, someone snipes them back, and then the game is on for them—that’s even more fun. You know how sometimes we sit around thinking of awful responses and hurtful things to say to people “the next time” they do whatever it is they do? DON’T DO THAT either. Snipers like to engage in passive-aggressive behavior. They do not like straight-forward, assertive communication.

What is the solution to the problem; how do you effectively and mindfully handle the sniper?

My first suggestion is-– make sure that you change the pattern, and every time the sniper makes an insulting joke at someone else’s expense, you respond to the sniper with a Spotlight question. A Spotlight question always begins with the same “lead-in line.” A lead-in line is the beginning of a sentence that helps you get started with a tactical response. The lead-in line for a Spotlight question is, “Are you trying to. . . .”

The entire 3-step response used with a sniper is:
1- Use their name. For example, “Mary…”
2- Backtrack. This means to repeat back to them word for word what they just said–not paraphrasing, but repeat back word for word. For example, “You just said that Tom’s ideas are as bad as his breath…”
3- Ask a Spotlight question. For example, “Are you trying to say that you don’t agree with Tom’s idea?”

 Of course, this is just tactic number one. You may need many more.

Without going on too much here, remember the 3-second look, which is to stare right into the sniper’s eyes for three seconds no matter what their response is to your Spotlight question. You could use a duct-tape tactic, such as, “That’s interesting; tell me more…why would you say that?” Or you could use a feel-felt-found, such as, “I can understand that you feel Tom’s idea isn’t good, and maybe there are others here who feel the same way, but we’ve found that making insulting comments, such as the one you made isn’t constructive.”  The key is to be consistent, and train the sniper that if she is going to make those types of comments around you, you will call her on that behavior, and you will do it in an assertive, strong, confident way, instead of a negative, destructive way.

Stressed Out in Sarasota, if you’re feeling bad about the way she’s treating you, and you evidently are, YOU NEED TO COMMUNICATE this in an effective, non-threatening way. The hardest part is that you HAVE to HAVE to HAVE to put your ego aside for the sake of getting what you want, which is–for her to collaborate with you rather than delegate to you.

When we have these little talks, we tend to either say too much or too little. Here’s a script that will keep you on track–

1-Lead-in line
 2-D-E-S-C (Describe the problem, state the Effects, Say what you want,Consequences)
 3-Closing line.  

The Lead-in line is the most important. Try a duct-tape one such as this: “Mary, I’m frustrated and need your professional advice” Even though you’re about to tell her to stop being so bossy, this line will open her up and make her feel as though she is participating and needed, rather than being “talked to.” It sounds as though she really has an ego–knowing that, you should communicate to her ego, and stroke it. That’s best for you. You don’t get your ego validated from her. That’s key.

The D-E-S-C helps you get what you need to say out of your mouth in the most precise way possible. D-describe ONE instance of her telling you what to do instead of collaborating with you, even if she does it every day.

KEY: Leave her name, or the word you out of it, and keep it to one sentence.

For example. “Yesterday, I got the email instructing me to go collect tickets for the fundraiser next week.” Just state a fact that cannot be interpreted any way but factually. Then E-state the effects, again in one sentence. How did you feel? For example, “I felt disrespected professionally, and I know that wasn’t your intention.” (People very rarely will say, “Oh, yes it was.” And if they do—it’s time for a whole different script.) S-Say what you want. THIS IS THE KEY. Most people forget to give instructions as to how they want to be treated. For example, “If you have work that needs to be delegated, please come to me so we can discuss the distribution of the work load as we always have in the past.” Then you give her a C, which is the consequence. Always keep the consequence positive. Tell the listener what’s in it for them. For example, ” If you can do that, I could focus more on getting the job done, and less on personal distractions, such as this has become– and when the boss gets back, you’ll look like even more of a shining star than you already do”

As you can see, a key here is to stroke her ego, which evidently really needs it. This will not change ANYONE’S perception of her or you, but it will help resolve this issue so you can move back on to business. I mean, you know who is a positive, confident player in your organization, and so does everyone else.

 Another key is to be consistent. If she pulls the same tricks again, call her on it again as if you never had the first conversation.

Finally, I suggest this book: it’s on the Enneagram, a personality system that I love and use all the time.

Now here’s the number one thing that will help you with everything…are you ready? You have to be sitting down, because this is a slayer tactic, and it’s a big one. You have to go into work tomorrow, and before you walk in the door, you have to pray to the universe, or God, or Buddha, or your higher self, or your grandmother or whoever it is you pray to, and you have to say, “I’m asking you to help me see this differently.”

 The way you’re seeing it now is an illusion. You’re seeing the darkness and the negativity. That’s an illusion that cannot be in the same place as light and positive energy. If you choose to enlighten this situation, or in other words, bring light to it, you will see the situation magically transform, because universal law states that light casts out darkness.

Be a light worker. Change the way you see this. When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at really do change. When you change the way you look at people, the people you look at really do change.

I hope this helps, and please keep in touch and let me know how it goes.

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Dan O’Connor has been leading the communication training industry for more than 20 years. Through his bestselling books, his #1 rated YouTube channel, and his online courses, Dan transforms the global conversation and the lives of countless individuals every day.

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