how do you handle difficult people? (g2)

I am finding some of these interview questions worthy enough of philosophical discussion, so I’m trying to vent it out here so I don’t do it during an interview. Of course, I have such a tendency to say everything I’m thinking, that I shouldn’t make promises I might not keep, even to myself.

The bottom line is how I deal with difficult people is… I don’t. Or more pointedly, the purpose of their difficulty would dictate more how I would deal with them. Some people are difficult because they are passionate. For those, I find they want things to improve and they just tend to be not stellar about how they express it. I’m fine with them in general, but will be frank in telling them when its time to come off the ledge.

There was a manager who could not retain even simple feedback on anything. He typed about two words per hour, didn’t know a damn thing in any Office program and I seriously wondered if his master’s degree had been forged. The only way I could deal with him was two word answers and abruptness.

Actually…. efficiency in words, bluntness… would probably be the telltale I find someone too difficult to be worth my efforts. I answer the question needing answers, but I don’t waste time on sugar-coated niceties. When you work for the same company, you’re going to deal with people you find annoying. Being clear, efficient and eliminating any room for interpretation seems to work best.

I’m realizing now why, though its been years since I thought about it. I used to attempt a more diplomatic way of presenting information, but ended up being accused of being “patronizing” because of it. So instead of emails like:

“Hi Jan, hope you’re having a good day. When you have moment, could you review the attached and let me know if it’s ok to finalize?”

I turned to:

“Please approve or advise.”

Somehow, “patronizing” was drawn from the first, but the latter leaves no room for any interpretation other than “do your fucking job.”

Over the years, there are personality types that I’ve realized are melodramatic timesucks, they use creative interpretation as a way of deflecting attention from their own failings. When it starts becoming clear they cannot do a job or they are not giving it the proper attention, they use the “they’re picking on me” bullshit to regain control and redirect the cause as being abusive behavior.

Managers not used to it, try to be diplomatic by pseudo-addressing it with the accused, but all that does is further enable the behavior. By not shutting it down immediately, not giving it a “cut the shit and do your job,” it sets a standard of that kind of behavior being acceptable. Since then, I’m more of a ten words or less type person with everyone, but especially with those I deem difficult. I’ve have since been called “abrupt” or “blunt” but I don’t leave anyone anything else to interpret.

I have another method when dealing in verbal communications that I learned over years in customer service. It especially came clear to me when I took a supervisor call from one of the nicest agents I’d ever had the pleasure to manage. For this woman to get a request for a supervisor was downright shocking. She was southern level sweet, what people in the south call “slopping sugar.” Only, she did it with sincerity.

I get on the phone and realize she’s been dealing with a guy from Jersey. I start emulating his speech, instant bond. I’m borderline rude to this man, to the point of almost horrifying my agent, and he loved me. When I finish the call, he’s completely satisfied. I laughed, and told her “I guess don’t be so nice to the yankees.” It became a point of training later in emulating at least some of how a person communicates in order to relate with them and make yourself familiar.

Not so long ago, we had an in-person meeting with a vendor and one of the representatives that had been especially caustic, wanted to discuss how I seemed rude. I leaned really close, making eye contact and said “I have found that communication is ideal when I emulate the person with whom I’m having a conversation. So if you do not enjoy the way I speak to you, understand it is a reflection of your own communication skills.”

So the only PR thing I can think to give this kind of question is “give me an example of the kind of difficult person you mean and I will give you an example of how I would handle it.”

Difficult people come in so many flavors, not even Baskin Robbins could name them all.

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