Posted by: kerrywills | January 14, 2011

That’s just the way they are

In my career I have worked with many people who could be labeled as ‘difficult’. These are people who possess some of the following traits..

  • verbally abusive
  • want things done their way and are very controlling
  • dismissive of others or talks down to them
  • antagonistic in meetings
  • don’t respond to messages

These people make work hard for others around them. Sometimes, they even get promoted into management positions. Because they get the work done, it appears that senior management tolerates (and even rewards) their behavior. Oftentimes, senior management only sees the results and not the way in which it gets done and the impact on the team. This is unfortunate because it usually puts the onus on the team members or co-workers to put up with their behaviors because “that’s just the way they are” (I love that statement because then it condones the behaviors and suggests that everyone else has to deal with it)

To me this is a type of bullying at work which should not be tolerated. There are several methods which can be used but they need to be contemplated for the situation…

  • Deal with it – If you play to their egos then maybe they will ease up a little bit and not see you as threatening. This may work for a short time but doesn’t address the root problem
  • Confront them directly – This is risky because if you work for them directly then they have influence over your career and you don’t want to be ‘punished’ for bringing this up
  • Go to their supervisor – Also risky since controlling-type people see this as a form of backstabbing so you may want to only do this after confronting them first. Their manager may also see you poorly for going to them vs confronting the issue
  • Look for ways of providing anonymous feedback – Some companies provide 360 degree feedback which may be a good way to get your message across (so long as others provide the same feedback and it doesn’t get averaged in with other results)
  • Look for another job – There is a saying that “people join companies and leave managers.” Of course you could always wind up with a manager or team members who are worse

All of these options have downsides so I would be curious if others have advice for how to work with ‘difficult’ people.

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