chapter caucus

Team Building Skills

Dealing with Difficult Types

In the previous section some difficult types of people were identified. The list is not exhaustive, by any means. Undoubtedly some of these types were recognizable as people you have encountered in your past. There are, perhaps, even more types that you can identify.

Fortunately not every work environment has all of the difficult types mentioned above. What a place that would be! The first thing to do is to try to figure out why these people act the way they do.

Remember: Difficult people act the way they do because they have done it in the past, AND it has worked for them. This is learned behavior, and they are not going to change simply because you do not like the behavior. So, if they are not going to change, what can you do?

  1. You could ignore the difficult person. That would make you look bad to management because you were not being a "team player."
  2. You could rant and rave to anyone who will listen. That would also make you look bad, and that this would make you one of the difficult people.
  3. You could complain to your supervisor. That would make it look like you were a tattle-tale and cannot handle your own conflicts.
  4. You could change the way your react to the person. Remember that people influence each other's behavior. How you respond to the difficult person will impact how the encounter continues.

Here are some ways to deal with the difficult types described.

Type and Method Possible motive for this behavior
The Bully:   Never lower yourself to the same level as The Bully. When the temper tantrum or guilt trip starts, remain calm (keep breathing) and maintain eye contact. Do not shrink away or get angry–that's what she wants. Remain composed and excuse yourself from the situation. You owe her no explanation for your departure. What will she do if you are not there to react in the way she expects you to? Try to avoid direct contact with The Bully and communicate through email. To get her way by any means possible.
The Flirt:   Be cordial, but not too friendly. If you remain distant, she may find you more desirable, like a challenge. Avoid working on projects that involve just the two of you, and find excuses to not work late or on the weekends alone with her. If she makes you feel uncomfortable, review your company's sexual harassment procedures and report her. Loneliness or simply getting ahead by having you do all the work.
The Talker:   Do not become involved in the chatting. Continue to do your work and reply with yes and no answers or nod your head. Create some distance from The Talker by closing your door or "sectioning off" your own workspace with shelves, filing cabinets, or plants. If need be, tell The Talker that you have a deadline and invite him to come back later. After a few times, he may actually leave you alone. To be friendly and have an ally.
The Bandit:   There is practically no way to prove that she stole your brilliant idea or copied your writing. Trying to do so will only make you look petty and selfish. The best way to deal with The Bandit is to watch what you say and share with her. Do not have her proofread your writing or tell her the best idea you have. Maintain contact and keep the conversation on safe topics like news, movies, or weather. If you have "been burnt" several times, she may try to get information from you, but avoid the temptation to share. To look good to the boss and be promoted.
The Whiner:   Do not let The Whiner bring you down with him. Negativity spreads and lowers productivity and morale. You should listen politely but do not join in or agree. He is looking for someone to validate his complaints, so do not give that to him. Eventually he will stop complaining to you because you do not share his attitude. Nothing will make him happy, so you should be unhappy, too.
The Gossip:   Do not pass along any gossip you hear from her. Do not give her any information or add on to anything she tells you, i.e., do not give her more fuel to spread around. If you hear her say something you know is not true, confront her and tell her that she has been misinformed. You must also confront her if she is spreading gossip about you. Once gossip comes to light, she will stop spreading it because the mystery has disappeared. To look better by harming the reputation of others.
The Pal:   While it is nice that The Pal sees you as a close confidant, if you do not want to be that close, then do not disclose personal information. Also, when she tells you something, do not offer advice or ask her for details. That will just encourage her. Continue to remain friendly, but try to keep conversation related to work. If she pries you with questions, simply explain that it is personal and leave it at that. You owe her no explanation. To be close friends who know you intimately.
The Spy:   The Spy is easy to identify. If you confided in this person and then management discussed the topic with you, it is a fairly safe bet that The Spy reported you. The only way to deal with him is to not give him anything to report. Once again, you must maintain contact, but watch what you say. Never say anything to this person that you would not say in front of your boss. To look good to the boss and be promoted.
The Comedian:   There is nothing you can do to stop The Comedian's antics. There is no relationship that will keep you safe from practical jokes. If you frown at her antics, she will keep doing them to annoy you. If you laugh at them, she will take it as a sign that you like them. Your best strategy is to try to remain neutral when dealing with her and focus on getting your work done. To derail the project or to avoid a task where she lacks the knowledge or skills. (It takes the focus away from her.)
The Gem:   Do not envy him for taking the easy path through life. Stop watching him and noticing everything he gets away with. Focus on yourself. Feel good about what you know and do. You are where you are because of all your hard work, and some day that will pay off. If he is so "golden," then he will move on. To look good and move up the corporate ladder.

If difficult people are annoying you, and you are having no luck getting them to change, remember that they most likely will never change. Ignoring them will not make the problems go away, either. You will need to change what you are doing. Changing how you interact with difficult people alters the dynamics of the situation.

Difficult people drain your time and energy. Dealing with them in a traumatic environment leaves you feeling angry, stressed, and frustrated.

Here are some things to think about:

There are certainly other roles and behaviors that can derail a team. There are times when everyone exhibits these behaviors because of something going on outside the group. Try to be watchful for disruptive behavior, and try to keep your team focused.

Next section:  Problem Solving Tools

Team Building Skills
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Velda Arnaud, Ph.D.
Executive Director
Lead, Educate, Serve Society

Last updated 10/4/14 (va)
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