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15 Control Tactics of Difficult People

Be on the lookout for these, before you get blindsided!

Source: Phovoir/Shutterstock

“Some people try to be tall by cutting off the heads of others.”

—Paramhansa Yogananda

Most of us come across difficult personalities at some points in our lives. These individuals may exist in our personal or professional environment. Being cognizant of control tactics used by challenging people can make the difference between awareness versus ignorance, and mastery versus victimhood.

Below is a list of 15 controlling tactics difficult people often use to maneuver others into positions of disadvantage, excerpted from my book, How to Successfully Handle Aggressive, Intimidating, and Controlling People. Not everyone who acts in the following manners may be deliberately trying to control you. Some people simply have very poor habits. Regardless, it’s important to recognize these behaviors in situations where your rights, interests, and safety are at stake.

1. Home Court and Time Dominance

An aggressive and controlling person may insist on you meeting and interacting in a physical space where he or she can exercise more dominance and control. This can be the aggressor’s office, home, car, or other spaces where she feels ownership and familiarity (and where you lack them).

In addition, an aggressor may want to control the length of a meeting to her advantage, making it either excessively long to wear you down, or abruptly short to cut you off.

2. Making You Wait

Someone who deliberately makes you wait before you get to see him or her is utilizing a classic form of power play. The message here is that his time is more important than yours, and by inference, he’s more important than you.

3. Power Differential in Furniture Set-Up

This usually happens when you enter someone’s deliberately set-up power office, where she or he sits in a larger, adjustable “executive” chair, while you are given a smaller and sometimes unadjustable seat. She also takes up and owns her table space, while you don’t have any place to put your laptop, papers and pen. The table might be used as a barrier to create physical, emotional, or psychological distance.

4. Deliberately Calling Your Name

Someone calling your name can be a form of power play, if it’s done deliberately and strategically. When someone’s name is called, the speaker has the listener’s attention. The listener is more inclined to feel put on the spot, and compelled to respond with greater attentiveness. Questions are more likely answered with greater care and detail.

5. Strength and Intimidation in Numbers

Some aggressors like to dominate a situation by having a number of associates or friends present to support her or his position. The superior numbers alone may constitute an intimidating presence. They can also back each other up and challenge you in turn during a proceeding. In addition, they may also put pressure on you to make a decision before you’re ready (a common car sales tactic). At worst, the strength in numbers tactic may be used for direct or indirect bullying or harassment.

6. Uncomfortable Formality

Some individuals like to deliberately make you feel uncomfortable and put you on the defensive by making the physical environment, their attire, their speech, and/or the proceeding uncomfortably formal. This may be especially true if such demonstrations are a departure from their baseline (normal) behavior. By being extra and sometimes unnecessarily formal, the aggressor tries to impress and intimidate psychologically, in order to extract advantages and concessions.

7. Physically Stand or Sit Uncomfortably Close To You to Intimidate/Physically Using Height Advantage to Tower Over You and Intimidate

Some aggressors use their physical size and/or height to violate your physical space and intimidate. By standing or sitting uncomfortably close to you, or standing and towering over you, they hope to achieve a sense of superiority and psychological dominance at your expense.

8. Overwhelm You with Procedures and Red Tape

Some people like to use bureaucracy—paperwork, procedures, laws and by-laws, committees, and other roadblocks to maintain their position and power, while making your life more difficult. This technique can also be used to delay fact finding and truth seeking, hide flaws and weaknesses, and evade scrutiny.

9. Raising Their Voice and Displaying Negative Emotions

Some aggressors raise their voice during discussions as a form of intimidation. The assumption may be that if they project their voice loudly enough, or display negative emotions, you’ll submit to their coercion and give them what they want. The aggressive voice is frequently combined with strong body language such as standing or excited gestures to increase impact.

10. Losing Patience and/or Threatening to Walkout

Similar to raising one’s voice, losing patience and threatening to walk out are classic power play tactics to pressure a recipient to conform and give in. The more attached (especially emotionally) the recipient is to the situation, the more likely this type of coercion can succeed.

11. Negative Humor Designed to Poke at Your Weaknesses and Disempower You

Some aggressors like to make critical remarks, often disguised as humor, to make you seem inferior and less secure. Examples can include any variety of comments ranging from your appearance, to your older model smartphone, to your background and credentials, to the fact that you walked in two minutes late and out of breath. By making you look bad, and getting you to feel bad, the aggressor hopes to impose psychological superiority over you.

12. Constantly Judge and Criticize You to Make You Feel Inadequate

Distinct from the previous behavior where negative humor is used as a cover, here the aggressor outright picks on you. By constantly marginalizing, ridiculing, and dismissing you, she or he keeps you off-balance and maintains her superiority. The aggressor deliberately fosters the impression that there’s always something wrong with you, and that no matter how hard you try, you are inadequate and will never be good enough. Significantly, the manipulator focuses on the negative without providing genuine and constructive solutions, or offering meaningful ways to help.

13. Giving You Little or No Time to Decide

This is a common sales and negotiation tactic, where the aggressor puts pressure on you to make a decision before you’re ready. By applying tension and control onto you, it is hoped that you will “crack” and give in to the aggressor’s demands.

14. Giving You Multiple and Excessive Directives to Control You Behaviorally and Psychologically

This is often used by law enforcement to control someone’s behavior. It can also be used by individuals who are highly control-oriented in business, domestic, and other situations. Excluding professions that may need this type of behavior to do their jobs (such as law enforcement, security, military, patient care, and risk-oriented activities), excessive and repeated control of someone’s behavior without valid reason could be considered forms of bullying and abuse.

15. Threatening Unreasonable Consequence(s)

Some people try to intimidate by threatening any number of consequences that will fall upon you if you don’t comply with their wishes. The consequences may include (and are not limited) to those that are emotional, social, psychological, physical, professional, informational, financial, and legal.

If you find yourself dealing with a difficult individual, there are many strategies and skills you can utilize to help restore balance and respect. In my book How to Successfully Handle Aggressive, Intimidating, and Controlling People, you'll learn how to maintain composure, ways to be proactive instead of reactive, 15 powerful strategies to disarm controlling tactics, eight ways to say “no” diplomatically but firmly, and seven types of power you can utilize to compel cooperation.

© 2016 by Preston C. Ni. All rights reserved worldwide. Copyright violation may subject the violator to legal prosecution.

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