How to Work with Over-Reactors, Part III: Keeping Your Cool, and Then Some

It can be very appealing to have an over-reactive person on your team because of their strong drive for accomplishment and their very quick response time whenever there’s a problem to be solved.

But for all the upside, over-reactors can be very tough to collaborate with and even to manage. Because most have a need to lead, if they’re on a team with other strivers and stars, the environment can get pretty competitive and heated up.

So it’s not enough for them just to strive. Highly reactive people also need to be recognized as stars or as particularly special participants. If they feel that they’ve been treated unfairly, they can go silent, disengage, and may even consider leaving the organization as if they’re “not wanted.”

Nobody wants that. But you do want over-reactors to think and reflect before acting impulsively. So what’s the best way to work effectively with them?

Meet Up and Keep Up

Over-reactors simultaneously believe in their own abilities, competencies, and work ethic and are concerned that their effort and investment may go unnoticed or underappreciated. The real trick to working with them is keeping up — so here are some suggestions for doing just that.

Arrive at meetings with over-reactors on time. They can’t tolerate their time being wasted, so never be late, and never make them wait. That also goes for follow-up, even if your response is that you’ll get back to them after doing more research. Whatever you have to do with or for an over-reactor, do it promptly.

Be fully prepared for any discussion — even over-prepared. If your case is weak, they’ll brush you off like a fly, so have all your facts assembled, and if you need help from colleagues or have backup data coming from elsewhere, line up your support in advance.

Establish Trust

The key to any good working relationship is to gain the other person’s confidence. This is especially true with over-reactors: If you can show them that you take things as seriously as they do, they’ll relax their “high alert” status just a little bit.

They will trust you more once they understand that you trust them, so try to keep your opposition to an over-reactor to a minimum — even if it means that you give in on all non-crucial items. In general, question or challenge an over-reactor when it’s obvious that their comments or actions are in conflict with the organization’s declared goals, mission, or intent — and only when you have the data to back up your point of view.

You can ask tough questions, but keep them succinct because it’s often difficult to get an over-reactor to sit still long enough to answer. Watch their body language for signs of impatience — if you see leg jiggling or watch checking, then you’ll know it’s time to wrap up, or at least call a break.

How to Disagree With an Over-Reactor

When you have to disagree with an over-reactor, try not to interrogate them or argue about their plans. They’ll just dig their heels in and get defensive — or worse, go off and do what they want anyway.

Instead, show them what the negative results are likely to be, as well as the different path that could take them where they want to go. But don’t over-talk. As soon as you can tell that they’ve got your point, move on to the next thing. Otherwise, their impatience and sense of urgency will spiral.

Relationship Regulation

Over-reactors need tangible proof of successful results to keep them calm, so whatever your relationship is on the organizational chart, schedule progress checks and milestones with them. This will keep them from breathing down your neck and give them reassurance that they will see progress, as well as a sense of security that their own performance is on track.

Learning to work with overly-reactive people requires a kind of enforced practice in clarifying your views, marshaling your data, honing your arguments, and keeping your cool. But the more closely you work with an over-reactor, the more you may need an additional support network or sounding board for yourself to try out your ideas and get your own encouragement.

Having others involved can also help you and the over-reactor clarify your roles and responsibilities and the way you’re going to work together, meanwhile stressing the value of cross-boundary collaboration and the value of cooperation in the culture.

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