Management Articles


Dealing with Difficult People: The Hyper Person

By: Susan Dunn

Susan Dunn, The EQ Coach, coaches individuals and executives in emotional intelligence, and offers workshops, presentations, trainings, Internet courses and ebooks.  She is a regular presenter for the Royal Caribbean and Costa cruiselines.  Visit her on the web at and for FREE ezine.

"When I'm talking to Amanda," says her supervisor, Kathleen, "she's jumping all over the place. She’s hyper, bouncing up and down, talking a mile a minute. I have to turn into a kind of human pacifier to get her to settle down enough to get some work done. It’s exhausting.”

"Vicente's the best man I've got," says Sean, a CEO, “but when he attends a meeting, it turns into a circus. Hands flying all over the place, dramatic gestures, throwing papers around when he gets mad, storming out of the room with a toss of that beautiful head. He knows he’s a show.  It's hard for me to keep the group focused. It’s disruptive.”

"All the world's a stage" to the Drama Queen (or King). They seem to experience life in technicolor, while others see it in black and white.

They demand attention, are comfortable with commotion, full or energy (mental, physical and emotional), and are often crisis-magnets. They can drain your energy.

It's hard to get them to focus. Following their train of thought or emotions is like following a bouncing ball. (Do you want to be in this position? No, you do not.) They perceive things to be very exciting and have trouble screening out “external stimuli.” If you don’t position yourself correctly, you’ll just be one of the many things they’re attempting to attend to. They are prone to exaggerate, and are especially difficult for left-brained people who think in a linear, analytic way.

Asking them to “calm down” rarely works, because to their mind, you should “rev up.” So here are some ways to avoid being just their audience (and worn out at the same time).
  1. Use Light, Minimal Eye Contact.

    In a one-to-one situation, avoid anything that puts you in the place of being a perceive audience. Likewise, if you stare at the display of tension-release (hands waving, knees bouncing, nail biting) you'll become affected. Eyes “focus” us and you want to direct the focus. Look at some other part of their face (not into their eyes) or off to the side. Better yet, have a written agenda and put it in front of you on the desk and focus on that. Actually point at it with your finger. You want the focus off  you, or them, and onto the subject and you do this by dealing with a concrete object that represents the task, i.e., the piece of paper.

  2. Use Nonverbal Pacifying Measures.

    Tone everything down. The last thing you want to do is agitate them any more than they already are. Lower your tone of voice, slow your speech, and make slow movements. Calm your facial expression and offer reassurance from time-to-time that “everything’s alright.”

    Heck, dim the lights if you can and play Pachelbel's "Canon Number 9" in the background from the CD "The Most Relaxing Music in the Universe"! For your benefit, if not for theirs.

  3. Provide Structure.

    Let them vent for a minute or two, and enjoy it. Then look at your watch (a concrete representation of "time") and say, "Well it's time to get down to business."

  4. Make it Time-Limited.

    Whether socially or professionally, they can be draining, so set time-limited activities. "Let's meet for lunch at 1. I have to pick up the kids at 3, so I'll need to leave at 2:30 and that will give us plenty of time to visit."

  5. Allow for Motor Release of Tension When Possible.

    (But remove things like coffee cups from the vicinity of those moving limbs.) Schedule a lunch meeting where you have to walk several blocks to get to the restaurant. They talk better walking beside someone than in the typical office situation - having to sit still and look at someone.

  6. Remove Distractions.

    If you need to conduct business, provide an agenda. Refer to it when things get off-track. "Ok, that's good. Now let's move on to point 7." Put the phone on DND. You'll have your hands full just with this person. You don’t need more going on, and you need them focusing on the task as much as possible.

  7. Whatever You Do, Don't Ask Open-Ended Questions.

    These people need to be pinned in with simple "yes" or "no" questions.

  8. Allow for Impetuosity.

    They can get carried away. If you think they've made a premature decision, back up and rephrase, saying, "Let's rethink this a moment." This allows them to collect their thoughts and remove some of the emotion. Hyperbole and histrionics are part of their style. Enjoy it, keep your distance, and discount everything about 50%.

  9. Take Care of Yourself.

    Employ tactics that calm you when you're under the barrage. Breathe deeply, look away or defocus your eyes, consciously relax your muscles, be patient, don't try to "fix" anything.

  10. Follow-Up in Writing.

    After the meeting, send a written memo re: accountability. Go over the main points. Sometimes allow them to “get back to you” on things.

© copyright, Susan Dunn, 2004

Other Articles by Susan Dunn

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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