Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Communicating more effectively as a job and career skill set 10: working more effective with, or around problem people 1

This is my tenth installment to a series on what is one of the most important, and also one of the most commonly problematical of all workplace skills: communicating with others, and as an effective two (or more) way process (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 342 and following for Parts 1-9.)

I have been discussing in this series, a number of issues and a number of best practices topics that relate to overall good communications skills. I turn in this installment and a next to come after it, to consider an aspect of this that no one wants to have to face but that we all do eventually – and that many of us have to deal with frequently: communicating with and working with difficult people.

I am going to offer a full, separate series on working with difficult people in this blog, with that tentatively scheduled for next year. I see that as a fundamental skill set that everyone who would enter into and participate in a workplace needs to master. But as that general topic overlaps with the topic area of this series, and at the risk of repeating myself on some points at a later date, I begin its discussion here – with a communications focus for purpose of this discussion. And I begin that by noting a basic truth:

• You cannot fix everything.

You can fix some things and you can train or mentor some people to help them become more effective in working with others. You can help some people learn to be more effective communicators, and to the benefit of all who they work with and to the business they work for, as well as for their own benefit. But you cannot always succeed in this. So sometimes a best approach is to understand what you are facing, and for you to find the best work-arounds for dealing with difficult people so as to limit the frustration and damage that they can cause.

My focus here is on communications, so I address difficult people from that one primary perspective. And to take this discussion out of the abstract, and as a sampling of some of the types of people whom I would identify as difficult, I cite:

• People who are bullying and who will not listen or compromise,
• People who cannot make decisions or who never get themselves organized enough to ever really follow through on what they say they will do,
• People who see their real role as entertaining others and/or doing their own thing rather than performing their assigned work,
• People who gossip and go behind others’ backs, and back stabbers and ass kissers, and
• People primarily driven by personal career advancement agendas and who selectively perform on the job – but only to advance their own personal careers and interests.

There are other ways that “difficult” can play out here, and I add that I will not tone down or bowdlerize how I identify any of them here. People who fit these descriptions create discord and frustration for all who they deal with and certainly for all who they act out their issues towards. There is a reason why terms used about them by their colleagues are not always all that polite (e.g. “ass kissers.”) They can and do enrage people and I start this posting by acknowledging that and by inviting any reader of this to do so too.

And this brings me to a fundamental best practices response to the disruptive that can be considered essential to making any effective practices work when dealing with them:

• Even when a difficult person seems to be specifically targeting you, their actions and their decision making processes are not about you. They are about themselves.
• So do not take ownership of what they do, or of what their words and actions or lack thereof might seem to be saying about you.
• This is important – step back emotionally from difficult people and particularly when they are acting out their dysfunctions and doing so at their worst.
• Look for best ways to deal with them and their actions, so as to lessen their impact on you and on what you do.
• Look out for those who you work with who would also be impacted upon by this, and as a matter of enlightened self-interest if for no other reason. If the people you work with and rely upon are blocked by the acting out of a particularly difficult colleague, that will adversely affect you too.
• And learn the lessons that this experience can bring, for future use and where you might see opportunity to either repeat or avoid having to face this same type of workplace situation again.

I offer that as a worst case scenario resolution, so I can justifiably argue that in negotiations terms, even in a worst case situation you still have what can be a very viable “best alternative to negotiated agreement.” With that in place, I step back from the worst case to consider people who are difficult but not impossible.

It is important to understand and see when you should try to work with, or work around difficult people, and as a cost/benefits matter if nothing else. I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment, where I will specifically consider difficult people who can be worked with, but as particular challenges and where you have to take appropriate approaches to make that work. Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide. You can also find this and related material at Social Networking and Business and its continuation page.

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