It took years to develop, but I was finally able to figure out how to handle difficult situations and how to work with difficult people.
I’ve worked with:
- The decisive, smart and friendly executive type
- The 9-to-5 do everything I’m asked with a smile and actually enjoy my work type
- The let me know if I can help you with anything type
- The we all know I’m the smartest one in the room type
- The you cross me, and I promise you it will be the worst mistake of your entire career type
- The please give me another day to make this decision type
- The let’s be real, I don’t really give a damn, just tell me what you need me to do and I’ll do it type
- The please don’t ask me to do anything for you because it’s not in my job description type
- The OMG she’s walking near my cube, I better act like I’m doing something before I get fired type
- The you used this word incorrectly in a PowerPoint, therefore I will call an all hands meeting to get this settled type
- The I trust you Robbie to make any decision you see fit type
- The if I don’t get a summary email at 8 p.m. every day I’m going to assume you didn’t do anything all day type
- The I’m going to cry instead of making an important decision so please back off type
- The I don’t really care what you think about me or my decisions, just do what I tell you type
- The who the hell left an unclean spoon in the sink, your mother isn’t here to look after you so I’m going to leave a passive aggressive sign above the sink and another on the refrigerator in addition to an email blast to the entire office type
- The give me your date of birth so we can celebrate your half birthday type
- The I’m going to pretend like I didn’t hear you the first time so I can make this conversation as awkward as possible type
- The I’m going to agree to everything said in the meeting then complain privately once the meeting is over type
- The I literally, figuratively and hypothetically do not care what anybody thinks about me, so just keep paying me every 2 weeks and we’ll all be happy type
- The if I hear one single piece of constructive criticism about my work I’m never going to open up my mouth again type
- And finally my favorite: The holy crap lady I can hear your nails click clacking on your keyboard from across the office type
For the person who creates those passive aggressive, “If you’re leaning, you’re cleaning” signs above the sink, I purposely don’t clean dirty spoons and put them in the sink so they can be even more upset. I’m evil like that.
The uncomfortable truth is that not all of these types are easy to deal with. In fact, many of these types make it much harder to get anything accomplished.
Deal with difficult people before they deal with you
Difficult people are an interesting breed. They tend to be the last person in a workflow who has the authority to approve a particular process, purchase order or contract, so they’re the final decision maker. They are nitpicky, irrational, insanely busy people who don’t understand how many hours the team has put into completing an activity.
They ask questions at the last minute about verbiage in a contract when they could have asked the question when you first started on the project. They make you start all the way from the beginning negating all that time you and your team spent on it.
And yet instead of engaging this person right away, most people wait all the way until the end to get their approval, then are in complete shock when this person demands that additional edits be made.
Easy. People hate working with difficult people unless they absolutely have to. Instead of getting answers to their questions right away, they take the easy route and make assumptions hoping the difficult person won’t ask questions once they review it. Nobody likes awkward conversations and would rather show the decision maker a “finished product” so they don’t get negative feedback on something that isn’t finished.
Then when it comes time to review the finished product, the difficult person becomes well, difficult. Of course, this story isn’t complete without the standard everyone blaming each other for a missed deadline when the executive asks why that task was delayed.
Step up and deal with the decision makers even if they make you uncomfortable. Don’t do it to impress your boss or your teammates. Do it because you want to make the final approval process easier, and do it to learn how this decision maker operates.
Do it because no one else will.
Difficult people are often misunderstood. They’re difficult because their job requires them to be detail oriented and they have stake in the outcome of certain activities or projects. They don’t care how much time you spent on an activity. They care about the outcome.
If you can figure out what makes them tick through early difficult conversations, you’ll not only have better answers early on, but also a relationship with someone who others refuse to connect with — or can’t. – Robbie Abed author of “Fire Me I Beg You”