Working with difficult people

Amy Cooper Hakim

Book - 2016

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New York, New York : TarcherPerigee, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC 2016.
Main Author
Amy Cooper Hakim (author)
Other Authors
Muriel Solomon (author)
Second revised edition
Item Description
Includes index.
Physical Description
xvi, 336 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

After 25 years, this updated and revised book is still as good as gold: Hakim has added a few terms and concepts to her late grandmother Solomon's original psychological arsenal, an important reference for anyone who works with other people. The format remains the same; 10 typologies, subdivided by different cohorts (bosses, colleagues, subordinates), are first overviewed for a glimpse inside their minds (and yours). Then, depending on the label and each cohort owns at least three there will be a number of strategies, along with a sample of real conversation. Updates include a focus on modern issues, including technology, generational differences and styles, and language difficulties.--Jacobs, Barbara Copyright 2017 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.

CHAPTER 1 WHEN YOUR BOSS IS BELLIGERENT Narcissists Bullies Ruthless Monsters First, let's admit it: We've all pulled idiotic maneuvers, and, frankly, we deserved it when the boss got enraged. Managers correct mistakes. That's their right. But no one can give a boss the right to call you an ignoramus, especially in front of an audience. Somehow you have to reduce the abuse dished out by narcissistic, bullying, or heartless villains. Telling them off and storming out in a huff won't help. The fleeting satisfaction you receive from landing a verbal punch is a luxury you can't afford. We're going to look at a better method for letting go of the hurt and going after what's really important to you: getting ahead in your job. You'll choose different strategies, depending on whether or not the boss is intentionally hostile. Either way, you can't assume you know what bosses want from you; they themselves must tell you what's on their minds. However, you can't reason with the enraged. Wait until the boss calms down, then talk it over and, at least, agree on objectives. Listen hard, plot your strategy, and think before you speak up. That's how to handle a hostile boss. Narcissists Narcissists are ego-driven, big-headed, cold-blooded individuals who expect total loyalty from others without being loyal in return. Narcissistic bosses take all the credit for any successes at work and lash out at those who do not demonstrate their trustworthiness. They are sneaky because they outwardly appear cool, calm, and collected. Yet those who know them feel that they are ticking time bombs and tiptoe around them so as not to be in their path. Narcissists have the uncanny ability to make you feel like gold one moment and like dirt the next. When they explode, it's with a no-holds-barred attitude. Anything is fair game, including exposing information that was shared in private. Of course, your boss should expect loyalty. However, not knowing when you will be in the "hot seat" is demoralizing and unnerving. What You're Thinking When I took this job, I had no idea that my polished boss could be so mean! I've learned that my day is much more pleasant if I can stay below his radar. Knowing that my actions are constantly being scrutinized has me jumping out of my skin. Just the other day, my boss praised me privately and then outwardly embarrassed me five minutes later because he felt that I crossed him. What's next? Why is he so flippant and hypercritical? A Narcissist's Thoughts I'm responsible for this whole team. None of these workers would be anywhere without me. I can be someone's best friend or worst enemy. If people cross the line with me, then they deserve to be exposed and ridiculed. After all, why should I respect workers who aren't loyal to me? Strategy Your goal is to be treated with respect by reducing hostility and developing mutual trust. 1. Respect yourself. You can speak up without either cringing or being insubordinate. 2. Clarify expectations. Don't leave a conversation without fully understanding what is expected. Then, create a paper trail by recapping your conversation by email. 3. Highlight priorities. Stress what's important to the company-getting assigned work completed and performed well. Tactical Talk Boss: (In public.) I need [xyz] done by tomorrow. I'm expecting perfection. You used to be my shining star, but I'm not so sure I can count on you anymore. Maybe I should just give this project to Billy. You: What you are asking me to do now is different from what we discussed yesterday. I sent you an email right after our other conversation, to make sure that we were on the same page. Boss: Do you think I have time to read all the emails that come through my inbox? You: I know that we both have the same goal, which is to do work correctly the first time. I want to meet your standards but am confused about expectations. Is it more important for me to change direction now or to meet the original deadline? Tip: Narcissists lack self-confidence, which is why they are so quick to turn on you if your actions will make them look bad. Emphasize your loyalty while standing your ground and you'll be back on their good side in no time. Still, always keep one eye open due to their unpredictable nature. Bullies Bullies are habitually cruel, threatening your present and future because loss of control frightens them. Bullies believe they can maintain control if they use hate and fear as weapons. They appear self-confident and strong because they intimidate weaker people. If you submit, or act afraid, or react with rage, that proves to them that you are inferior and deserve to be disparaged. When these bosses belittle you, crushing your self-confidence with their authoritarian threats, your best defense is an offense. You have to stand up to the Bully. What You're Thinking My boss tortures me with emotional blackmail. If I don't do exactly what she wants when she wants, I'll never get a raise or move up; she could even make me lose my job. I can't afford to upset her, so I hide my anger. But my stomach is in knots over working with this ogre. I'm always tense and on edge. A Bully's Thoughts These people make me mad. They're so weak and stupid. They can't think anything through. Well, I told them the right way to handle it. Yes, it was the right way. I'll show them who's boss. At any rate, the matter is not negotiable. I must prove I am right. If I frighten them and show them how weak they are, they will see how strong I am. Strategy Your aim is to protect your job by redeeming your self-esteem, thereby gaining the Bully's respect. Stop accepting the situation. Arm yourself with friendliness and self-confidence and avoid a clash of wills. 1. Practice confrontation at home. You want to appear firm, strong, and unemotional-even if you're shaking in your boots. Make a video of this practice run. Review it to perfect your content, tone, and body language. 2. Let Bullies vent their anger without interrupting them; then focus on their concerns. In a pleasant tone, pose questions to get them to disclose what's really bugging them. They may be Bullies, but they're human, so don't be surprised if they react positively when you show concern for their feelings. Tactical Talk Boss: You are wrong. Shut up and listen and then do as you're told, or else you can empty out your desk and you're history. You: Okay, Boss, I can see you don't agree. Of course, you have the final say, and I'll do my best-everything I possibly can-to carry out your decision. But it would seem that- (Boss interrupts, but you continue, interrupting the interrupter.) You: Excuse me, I'm not through. Give me thirty seconds to finish this point. If [xyz] causes the problem, what would happen if we shifted the . . . ? Tip: Bullies lose their power if you don't cower. Deep down, they doubt they deserve your respect. They admire you for speaking with self-assurance and confidence. So when they bombard, don't counterpunch. Win them over with your strong, firm, courteous demeanor. Ruthless Monsters Ruthless Monsters take pleasure in causing you difficulty. Ruthless Monsters also are hostile, but their joy is in catching you in a mistake and making you squirm. With an "Aha, gotcha!" look, they get their kicks out of attacking you or threatening to fire you, and it's more delightful for them if their reprimand is given in front of your colleagues or customers. Ruthless Monsters demand blind obedience, but keep changing the rules to fit their whims. They berate you for errors they initiated and then not only deny any responsibility, but also fail to show you a better way. With no letup, Ruthless Monsters are deliberately mean. You can't disagree with them without making matters worse. You have to find a way to keep them from sapping your spirit and all but eradicating your ego. What You're Thinking My boss just isn't happy unless he's degrading his staff. He purposely tries to make me look foolish or inept. I am particularly upset because he asked me to talk frankly with him when I had any problem with my department, but when I did, he used my voluntary information to give me a poor performance review. He humiliates me for mistakes and punishes me for problems! I've started covering up instead of talking to him, because I think he's making me a scapegoat to protect his own position. A Ruthless Monster's Thoughts I've got to shake my people out of their complacency. If I embarrass them some more, I can motivate them to work faster. But this is cutting into the time I'd planned to use for developing the new system. I guess I'll have to push a little harder. So what if I have to break a few company regulations in the process? It's coming out ahead of my colleagues and keeping in tight with those upstairs that counts. Strategy Your immediate goal is to reduce your daily stress on the job. You can move along two tracks simultaneously. 1. Try a shock treatment. Stand up for yourself by asking your boss to please sit down, looking him in the eye without blinking, and calmly stating that you wish to be treated with the respect due another human being. Your unexpected action may get him to see you as a person instead of as a punching bag. 2. Learn what recourse you have in your company. For instance, many organizations have anonymous hotlines for this very purpose. Your Human Resources professional can explain any grievance procedures. If your boss thinks his behavior may be tagged "unprofessional," he'll want to do something to avoid getting in trouble. He very well may let up a little. 3. Anonymous feedback may be better. If you have no grievance procedure, or are uncomfortable speaking with HR, write to the top boss. Point to high turnover, low morale, or other pervasive problems. Recommend better supervisory training. Propose a formalized system that enables workers to make suggestions to managers positioned above their immediate supervisors. Tactical Talk Boss: You stupid fool. Can't you follow the simplest orders? How can I run a division when they give me incompetents like you! You: Yes, Boss, but which order do you want me to follow-the executive order in the manual or the one you are telling me about now? If I made a mistake, tell me. I'm glad to do whatever you think best. But there's no need to call me names. Tip: If the torture continues and you're becoming a physical or emotional wreck, consider making a job move sooner rather than later. There are many varieties of belligerent bosses. When a hostile boss attacks you, bottling up your feelings can make you ill. Learn to stand up for yourself and express your anger in a positive way. That's good for you and your boss. As Eleanor Roosevelt wrote, "Nobody can make you feel inferior without your consent." If the hostility becomes overwhelming and you can't change the climate, keep your sanity by looking for work elsewhere. In that case, don't grieve-leave. CHAPTER 2 WHEN YOUR COLLEAGUES ARE BELLIGERENT Raging Bulls Tacklers Cyberbullies Enviers Intimidators It's normal to react angrily when a colleague is hostile to you, or is even aggressive without obvious hostility. Now you have a choice. How are you going to use this anger when you have to deal with Raging Bulls, Tacklers, Cyberbullies, Enviers, and Intimidators? If you do nothing but cry about it, your brain will rust. But if you admit to yourself how you're feeling, you begin to put the anger to work. You start dreaming up ways to dispose of your resentment. After eliminating the tactics of physically punching aggressors or "accidentally" anointing their heads with hot coffee, free your mind to focus on achieving the objectives that are in your best interest. RAGING BULLS Raging Bulls erupt unexpectedly, becoming unglued in a violent fit of desk rage. Colleagues who were always patient and pleasant now fly off the handle. Like kids throwing temper tantrums, they can't seem to control their anger when something doesn't go the way they anticipated. The problem is escalating. Extended hours and tighter deadlines have increased tension in the office. Workers are overwhelmed by nonstop, accelerated speed. Advances in technology-smartphones, remote access, document sharing-mean they never can really leave their work. It's always a click away, even after they start for home. Add to the mix noise distractions, interruptions, the stress of worrying about job security, and trying to handle many jobs at the same time to meet new schedules, and bam!-an explosion occurs. What You're Thinking Why is Justin so edgy lately? He always looks tired and frustrated. It doesn't take much for him to turn a discussion into an argument and start yelling. If I hadn't ducked this morning, I'd have been hit with the book he threw against the wall. It upset me so much that, instead of getting my work done, I spent the rest of the day worrying about what to do when he gets out of control. A Raging Bull's Thoughts I used to enjoy my work. That was when I had some time off. Now there's no satisfaction, no time for anything but work. I don't sleep, worrying if I'll be in the next batch of layoffs unless I can meet the productivity demands. I check my email day and night to make sure I don't miss an important message from the boss. And as if that's not bad enough, I have to put up with my hateful coworkers. I know I have to control my outbursts, but I also have to watch my back. Strategy Your objective is to defuse the Raging Bull's anger-to calm him down and win his confidence. 1. Leave immediately if he starts throwing things. You have to protect yourself. Just say, "We'll discuss this later," and scoot. Your colleague acts childish; you act grown-up. 2. Interrupt after the Raging Bull winds down. In a calm and friendly voice, keep repeating his name until he hears you. 3. Be prepared with practical suggestions to reduce the stress he's feeling. Don't analyze his behavior; just mention what you've observed. Discuss ways he might alter his job responsibilities or create more enjoyment. Let him know you want to lend support. 4. Encourage him to develop alliances. There's less chance he'll think of himself, or be seen, as a victim. 5. If the behavior continues, speak with your Human Resources professional and/or encourage him to seek professional counseling. Tactical Talk You: Justin, I can see you're having a tough time lately. I went through something like this a while back. If you'd like, I'll tell you what I learned that pulled me through. Excerpted from Working with Difficult People, Second Revised Edition: Handling the Ten Types of Problem People Without Losing Your Mind by Amy Cooper Hakim, Muriel Solomon All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.