Psychologist and author Meredith Fuller identifies in her book the dysfunctional insecure personality. In chapter two of her book Fuller describes how their sense of perfection and high standards affect you, and what you can do about it.
Fuller explains that the insecure is achievement orientated, and see’s themselves as perfectionists. They have impossibly high standards and expectations of themselves and others. They are insecure and anxious about meeting those self-imposed standards, and therefore want to control and organise you with inflexible rules, regulations and structures.
The insecure are often highly competitive and rigid in their approach to work, and their work life balance has usually been compromised as a result. Fuller explains “By keeping other people down they maintain control, which in turn helps to manage their anxiety.”
Some key insecure behaviour includes:
- They work long hours and want you to do the same, often sending emails well outside work hours, expecting a response.
- They check up on you with an air of mistrust.
- They are reluctant to delegate, and certainly won’t delegate interesting tasks – no one can do things as well as they can.
- They want you on their team because you are so competent, but don’t grant you the authority to the job.
- They want to control you and ensure you are beholden to them, frequently reminding you who is the boss.
- They frequently interrupt you with new demands that are urgent and often unreasonable.
- They want things done their way and will be annoyed if you try to show initiative.
- They prefer a rigid approach and their rules to be followed, and can’t trust anyone with a different view.
- They will not be clear about their objectives, expectations or priorities – this enables them to step in and take control when things go wrong.
Why does the insecure behave like this?
There are three main reasons behind the Insecures’s behaviour, and they won’t always be obvious. Remember that a colleague’s insecurity about work should not be your problem. You can be negatively affected by that insecurity, but if you understand that the image projected by the Insecure is often coming from their own deep-seated fears of inadequacy, you might start to feel better about yourself and your ability to deal with the situation.
The four triggers are:
- They are afraid– They keep you under their thumb because they don’t want you to question their authority, their competence or methods. They think that keeping you busy and worried prevents you from finding out they are frightened. What do they fear? Being seen as incompetent, losing control, losing power or looking foolish.
- The rest of their life is out of control– Control freaks are everywhere in the workplace, who insist on checking that everything is done to their impossibly high standards. They seek to control every aspect of the work they are employed to do. The chances are that things might be out of control at home, so they seek to control whatever they can at work.
- They got there the hard way and so will you – It’s often a characteristic of an older Insecure that might think “I got here the hard way, so you have to get up all by yourself.” And they will be kicking you down while you try to get up.
- What to do when you work with an Insecure:
Firstly you need to accept that you will probably never please this person. The best you can hope for is being allowed to get on with your job. They want you to feel inferior so you are easier to manipulate. They get ready to criticise you for your own shortcomings, getting ready to blame you in case the outcome isn’t perfect. Remember the Insecure is on a mission to spread anxiety. They will spoil your good news and moments of happiness by pointing out your faults, obsessing about what could go wrong, complaining about your work to others, pushing your guilt buttons and generally being a sourpuss.
Some tips on handling the Insecure are:
- Focus on achieving outcomes. Try to work out what they are trying to accomplish, and help to make that happen. At the very least, you may be able to work out what they don’t want.
- Build on what they say they want, rather than opposing them- be an ally not an enemy. When you are dealing with a fear based aggressor, this is important.
- Try to work out why they want something done- you can contribute to their success when you understand their underlying motives.
- Appearing to respond to their pressure with a can-do attitude is in your best interests- their anxiety and lack of patience makes them jump at the first sign of opposition.
- Reassure them with regular updates, even though it’s a nuisance. That way, they don’t need to keep on harassing you, and their anxiety is eased.
- Never confront them when their anxiety levels are high, or when you are angry. Prepare what you want to say (write it down) and choose a time to deliver your thoughts calmly and confidently, keeping emotion out of it.
- Focus your efforts where you can be effective and achieve outcomes, rather than wishing you could change their behaviour.
- Their ability to prioritise means you might need something highly visible like a large whiteboard with timelines and projects, deadlines and progress points. When they try to add another unreasonable task, look at your board, ask them to look with you, and decide which project needs to be pushed back.
Working with an insecure person can cause real anxiety in the office. If you can identify key behaviour and work on dealing with them in a professional manner can help make your job easier. If the situation is really extreme it might be an idea to see a physiologist or speak to your manager about the situation.