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Dealing With Difficult People

Posted by: In: Uncategorized 21 Sep 2009 Comments: 0
By Len D’Innocenzo, CEO, CRKInteractive

Unless you work on a deserted island, dealing with people is a fact of life. The better you are at it, the easier it will be to get along—on and off the job.

No matter how even tempered you are, you probably know one or two people whose behavior put your good nature to the test. If these people happen to be colleagues, superiors, subordinates or customers and clients with whom you must deal on a daily basis, your ability to handle them will be critical to your success.

Dealing with difficult people begins with identifying and naming the behaviors that trigger a strong reaction in you. The more you learn about difficult people, the better you understand and deal with them. Even if you don’t end up liking a person, getting to know him or her can lessen the feelings of tension. Understanding where they’re coming from and what makes them tick is an excellent way of dealing with difficult people.
Lets examine two types of difficult people that you will have to deal with in your career. While some of the situations may not have happened to you personally, we know that they do occur. Reviewing each of these fictitious difficult people will prepare you for the real encounter.

Barry the Backstabber

Barry the Backstabber is someone who betrays your trust, and such a person can be deadly to your career or your success with a client project. Whether his motives stem from insecurity or ruthless ambition, Barry the Backstabber stands ready, and willing to make you look bad.

Unfortunately, Barry the Backstabber may not always be easy to identify, unless he already has a reputation. But there are clues that should make you wary. Is Barry the Backstabber someone you’ve never been close to, but all of a sudden he is pouring on the charm trying to be your best friend? Is he asking you a lot of personal questions? Have you heard through the grapevine that he is trying to find out about you through others? These are signs that Barry the Backstabber is gathering intelligence—possibly to use against you.

Dealing with Barry The Backstabber A good rule of thumb is to be especially careful about what you say to people when you first meet. The trick is to be friendly and cordial without spilling your guts and revealing your innermost feelings to people you really don’t know yet.

To Barry the Backstabber, even an innocent comment like “I’d like to live in Chicago someday” could be used to try to make people believe that you are uncommitted to the company and planning to move away. Barry the Backstabber may be trying to climb the corporate ladder, and if he perceives you as a threat he’ll seize any opportunity to discredit you.

No matter how good a judge of character or sincerity you think you are, the best defense against Barry the Backstabber is not to say too much. Avoid revealing your career or family plans, personal problems, gripes, or pet peeves to anybody in your office.

Society may be learning to be more tolerant these days, but that doesn’t mean your company or client has. Remember TMI—Too Much Information—can be harmful to you.

If Barry the Backstabber is a client you need to be especially careful about what you say. Barry has his own agenda and may have it in for you or your company. He may be looking to find a way slow down your project. Even worse, he may be trying to sabotage the project altogether. A good rule of thumb is remind Barry the Backstabber that your there to do a job for his company. You’re working for them.

Mike the Manipulator

Mike the Manipulator gets others to do his job for them through trickery, charm, or by eliciting sympathy. And the slickest part is that you won’t realize you’ve been conned into doing his job or anything else he wants until it’s too late.

Mike the Manipulator starts by engaging you in friendly, casual conversation. As an afterthought, he says, “By the way, could you do me a favor?” or “I wonder if you could help me out with something. I’m really tied up with a project and you’re so good at writing letters (or organization, or filing, or research, or whatever the necessary task he wants you to do for him happens to be).”

This smooth talker may conceal his request as an opportunity for you to take on more responsibility and show what you can do. Not that he plans to give you any credit for doing his work.

Another maneuver might be to tell you how swamped he is and, wouldn’t it be great if someone would help him finish this project so he could leave the office and have dinner with his family for a change.

Dealing with Mike the Manipulator Mike the Manipulator’s goal is for others to do his job. What do you say in response to his tricky maneuvers? Some possible replies:

  1. I’d be glad to help you, but I’ll have to check with my boss first. He has me on an important project
  2. I’d love to help, but I’m straight out today, myself. If I get some free time, I’ll let you know. But it looks like I’ll be working late tonight like you!
  3. I’m willing to help you tonight if you can stay late tomorrow and help me.
Since Mike the Manipulator’s goal is to get something for nothing, he’ll probably steer clear of you in the future. If he is truly sincere (and everyone will need help at some time) then this last approach will let you know he is willing to help you in return.

If Mike the Manipulator is a client, watch out for nibbling during a negotiation or extra items outside of the scope of work. Mike is famous for requesting just “one more thing” he needs to make a deal happen. He’s looking for something extra and usually doesn’t want to pay anything for it. Refer Mike back to the statement of work or to company policy. If nibbling is one of Mike’s negotiating tactics—don’t make a concession without getting something in return. You want to negotiate with a win-win strategy.


Len D’Innocenzo is a co-founder of CRKInteractive, a US-based provider of cutting-edge performance development programs for over 20 years. Northbound Learning has an exclusive Canadian partnership with CRK.

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