You probably get along with most people in your life. But it probably doesn’t take long to think of someone who challenges you in a negative way and makes your life difficult. These folks don’t just wake up and scheme about making you miserable. It’s more likely they are trying to do what they feel is right, but because of some insecurity they sometimes will exhibit unhealthy behavior – which can affect you.
We all deal with insecurity at different points in our lives and careers. It’s challenging enough to deal with our own “stuff,” but we’re often in an environment that requires us to deal with other people’s insecurities as well. Compound these internal and external factors and you can see why offices, homes and little league baseball can be a breeding ground for drama and conflict.
When reacting to stress or difficulties, your boss or colleague may start acting out from their insecurity. What are some signs of insecurity?
- Pointing fingers at others’ mistakes (even insignificant errors)
- Whining and complaining
- Taking all the credit
- Drawing attention to their plight
- Withdrawing from any interaction
- Becoming indecisive
- Ramping up activity needlessly
- Being domineering and/or territorial
- Getting stuck or paralyzed
So, how do you deal with an insecure leader (or coworker)?
One way is to respond to their actions.
- Defend yourself against criticism
- Pacify their complaints
- Placate to their ego
- Rescue them from themselves
- Guard the door until they’re ready to face the world again
- Make decisions on their behalf
- Help them spin their plates
- Walk on eggshells
- Wait patiently for them to get unstuck
Another way to deal with insecure people is to deal with the insecurity itself. Ask why they are acting the way they are. Just be sure to do it in a way that conveys you want to help them, not criticize them. Encourage them to talk to someone (a mentor, a coach, a friend, clergy, etc.) who can give them guidance and peace of mind. Help them see that facing their insecurity is better than letting it control them.
Understanding the differing personalities and their ways of operating is definitely helpful. The lists above follow the 9 Domains, but a basic understanding of the DISC Model or Myers Briggs Personality Types can help you recognize when others are operating out of insecurity or responding to stressors.
These aren’t compliments like, “Nice shirt.” or “Have you lost weight?” I’m talking about finding people who complement each other with different strengths and weaknesses. John Maxwell calls this “Developing a Complementary Friend”.
If your trusted friend also complements your insecurities and helps make up for some of your weaknesses, you’ll be well on your way to overcoming this problem.
Encourage insecure people to collaborate with people who complement them. Point out how they can help one another because of their differing styles. This can help make their differences a positive instead of a negative.
As with most things, making a one-time course correction doesn’t mean you’ll stay on target. If you have addressed someone’s unhealthy behavior, follow up with them to check on progress. Make observations. Ask a few open-ended questions of colleagues. And ask the insecure individual how they feel it’s going. If they know you are checking back and will hold them accountable, they will be more aware of when they start slipping back into reacting to their insecurities.
Working with others is hardly ever neat and tidy. It can be a messy ordeal, especially when dealing with insecure people. But dig a little deeper, complement strengths and weaknesses, and follow up on progress. By doing this, you may find your workplace can be (in general) a healthier and happier place.