After writing the book, How To Deal With Irrational People: What To Do When Common Sense Fails And “Crazy” Behavior Prevails, I received a lot of questions on how to deal with other types of people like narcissists and Antisocials.
I thought, “Well, irrational behavior is irrational behavior! So what does it matter what type of person is doing it?”
But, there is a big difference that I didn’t take into account in the book: There is the irrational behavior, and the irrational personality.
Behavior is learned and honed, and can be changed when the person comes to a place of self-empowerment and figures out that the behavior is not very resourceful or productive.
For someone with a “personality disorder” however, it is believed that they are born this way. Their behavior is not learned, it just is and will always be. At least, according to psychologists and many other smart people in the mental health field.
So when I received a question about the “Cluster B” group of people (narcissists, borderline, histrionic, and antisocial) and how one would effectively communicate with them, I decided to explore it a bit.
What I came up with is that there are ways to communicate with people in that category, but they may not be “pretty”.
And, the way you communicate will depend on the context of the situation – as with anything really. For example, if you work with a Cluster B person, over which you have no authority, it will be a different type of conversation than if you were a supervisor with decision making power over them.
So, what follows is what I’ve come to learn about communicating effectively with Cluster B folks. (Please note, I am not a therapist nor claim to be an expert in mental health – so view these as opinions only, not fact):
If you don’t have authority (friends, family, co-workers), here’s the not so pretty way to communicate with them:
- Remember they will NEVER change their behavior.
And when it appears they’re changing in a good way, they are doing so as a manipulation to get what they want. They will find ways to manipulate you by making you think you are the bad guy / gal, and they will truly believe they are right and you are wrong, no matter how insurmountable the evidence.
Knowing they will never change, you will always know who you’re dealing with. So never let your guard down.
- Never get sucked in to their sob story, just stick to the facts.
What is the end result you want to achieve? A question like, “All I need to know is if you will do it or not. Will you do it?” or something similar. You need to get them to come to an absolute, and get a definitive answer like Yes or No.
They will tend to say, “Of course I’ll do it, assuming there XYZ happens.” This gives them a way out so after when they didn’t do what they promised, they can say “XYZ didn’t happen!”
Or, “I thought XYZ didn’t happen so I didn’t do it.“
They create “escape plans” ahead of time so that they can say with perfect congruence: “I told you, if XYZ doesn’t happen, I couldn’t do what you asked. And I so no evidence of XYZ happening so I didn’t do it.“
Get them to a definitive answer or they will find a way out of responsibility for their actions.
- Remember to honor your personal boundaries.
All of your communication is really about you honoring yourself and not letting them past your boundaries. If they are getting in, you are letting them in.
They are very good at doing that too, so you have to be very clear what you’ll allow inside your boundaries and honor them.
“That doesn’t work for me.” is a good way to do that if you feel like your boundaries are being violated.
If they continue violating your boundaries, then you need speak to their superiors (in a work situation). Or, and this will sound a tad unusual, bully them back – if you can. i.e. “Step back, you are disrespecting me.”
But, that doesn’t always work out unless you are capable of doing so with assertion and conviction. Even then, depending on the person, you have to be careful.
Above all, if they do not respect your boundaries and you can’t find a way around that, leave the situation. If you can’t get them to stop, and you can’t report them to someone in charge, you have to leave them because your boundaries are the most important part of you to protect. Once you let someone in that space, they can control you.
- Create accountability.
If they don’t do something, or they do something they aren’t supposed to, create accountability and follow through with it.
This is easy when you supervise them but not so easy when you have no authority over them.
If you don’t follow through by making them accountable, whether because of your overly compassionate nature or because of their manipulative sob stories, you will get taken advantage of time and time again.
Everything they say to pull at your heart strings is a manipulation to get their needs met. If you fall for their stories, you will find yourself being lenient and they’ll get away with whatever they want.
The cluster B group manipulates for selfish reasons, and they may not even think what they’re doing is wrong! That’s the hardest part: They believe they are right. They believe in their own sob stories. And, they are always the victim and never responsible for anything that happens to them. It’s always someone else’s fault. Always keep your radar up because this never changes.
5. Use reverse manipulation by filling their needs in an exaggerated way.
This is one of the not-so-pretty techniques. Let me explain…
A good example of this is how I treat unusually mean or bossy people: I become overly helpful, friendly, and accommodating to them.
If I’m in a situation like this and I choose to stay in that situation, then I choose to manipulate it to my advantage. The alternative is to be manipulated, bullied or have your boundaries violated. It’s probably best to not be in this type of environment in the first place but if you are, you should at least have some tools to make it easier.
A Cluster B person wants to fulfill their own, selfish needs so when you purposefully fulfill those needs, they don’t have to manipulate you to get them met. In other words, you manipulate them by giving them exactly what they want so they can’t behave “badly”.
What typically happens is that you have less problems with the person because they no longer see you as someone deterring their progress to get their needs met.
I know someone who worked for a micro-manager. She got sick of being asked about every single detail of every project. He was constantly sending emails and calling her, putting her in a position where she started resenting him.
Then she decided to over exaggerate what he needed and fulfill his needs before he could fulfill them himself. She controlled the situation now.
Since she knew everything he was going to ask in advance, she sent him emails and she called him repeatedly – basically mirroring his behavior.
This gave him little-to-no time to do the behavior himself, so he ended up backing off a little. He felt like his needs were being met so there was no reason to be a micro-manager anymore. On top of that the woman started liking her job more now that she was in control of the flow of information and this made all the difference.
Work within the rule structure of the cluster B person, and you can make things work to your advantage.
As for the Cluster B folks that you do have authority over, the situation is much easier:
Create accountability and follow through.
That’s it. Give them one warning and if they fail, make them pay the price. Period.
They will give you every excuse in the book, but that’s why you have to set them up to answer in an absolute way so there’s a clear path of responsibility.
But just remember no matter what, know who you’re dealing with!
Cluster B folks are masters at skirting responsibility. They are brilliant at twisting words and turning fault around to make them appear completely innocent and free of any responsibility. If you get sucked into their story, it’s too late.
Stay alert and aware and stick to the facts and the outcome you want.
So, there’s my sweeping generalization of a segment of the world. Just know that these are only my opinions and I could be wrong about everything. 😉