In conducting thousands of seminars on dealing with difficult people, managing difficult people, and leadership for corporations all over the world, the one type of worker I hear about most is the negativist. Now, we can all be difficult from time to time. But the people I’m talking about are the chronically negative difficult people that really get under everybody’s skin.
This is the problem-child whiner who complains, has no solutions, and says, “I don’t get paid enough to worry about that!” Or says sarcastically, “It’s not my job.”
While these people can be challenging to work with, they can be harder to manage. That’s because many managers and supervisors get promoted to management positions based on their hard skills or technical skills. Yet, the very skills that got them promoted aren’t the ones they’ll often use in managing people. Often, bosses say to me, “I’m tired of being everybody’s babysitter or referee.” Or they’ll say, “I feel like I’m running an adult day care!” That’s where I come in – to coach them and train them in what to say – and what not to say – in dealing with difficult people. Bosses have to be very careful nowadays because we live in such a litigious society.
And as someone said on a radio show the other day, “It goes both ways. Bosses have to be outstanding role models if they want outstanding employees.” Well said!
So, what if you’re dealing with difficult people – and their negativity at work – but you’re not the manager? You may not have direct authority over these people, but there are things you can do. One thing you can do is offer the difficult person a solution. Chronic complainers don’t want solutions. Eventually they’ll move on to someone else.
Another method in dealing with difficult people is to continue doing your work. Look up occasionally. Nod occasionally. Most likely, they’ll move on to someone else because they’re looking for an audience. They want someone who will buy in to their negativity. Or, you can be more direct. Tactfully say, “I know this is something you want to discuss, but I have a lot of work and I want to make sure I get it done.”
Whatever you do, resist the temptation to start complaining. Otherwise, the two of you will be feeding off of each other. The next time they want to complain they’ll come to you first!
Document your interactions with these difficult people at work. Eventually, if you can’t resolve it on your own, your manager will have to step in and take action.
The good news? It demonstrates to your boss that you’re proactive. It shows you’re a problem solver in dealing with difficult people. You attempted to tackle this difficult person on your own first, without being a tattletale. Your boss will appreciate you for making the effort. Unfortunately, now it’s up to them to become the babysitter.