Take the Offensive When Dealing With Uncooperative Peers

October 13, 1995


I came across the following article on how to deal with peers. It was written for engineering managers, but I believe it should be applicable to all professionals in large manufacturing companies. So, enjoy.

In a typical week, we have many contacts with peers in marketing, sales, purchasing, production, and personnel. While most lateral meetings are friendly and productive, department heads in even small companies seem to have at least one colleague on their corporate level who is a certified problem. Unfortunately, engineering managers cannot make these people go away, particularly as corporations become more enamored of cross-functional teams. Instead, they have to find a way to keep lateral relations with difficult people on a positive footing. This is crucial, since few department heads have the power to compel others to produce quality information or meet engineering deadlines. Further, most uncooperative types in management have powerful negative capability and can easily make department heads look ineffective by, say, withholding valuable customer information or delaying important test data an key projects.

Since so much departmental work depends an data gathered through lateral relationships in todayís business environment, many of us can benefit if we periodically review the dynamics of our interactions with problematic colleagues. In the best case, such reviews will not only help engineering heads improve the outcomes of these interactions, they also can help department managers gain reputations for political dexterity and effective leadership.

To help clarify the workings of troublesome lateral relations, the following capsule summaries of chapters in "Dealing With People You Canít Stand" (McGraw- Hill), a management text written by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner are provided. Following their lead, we provide brief descriptions of the 10 most common corporate types of problem colleagues while explaining whatís happening and offering some specific tips for constructively working with each type. Two important elements we also include are defining your goal in interacting with this type of person, and recommending an action plan for taking control when dealing with this individual.

Much of what is included in these summaries may be sheer common sense to many with good intuition about people. On the other hand, many team leaders, engineering supervisors, and managers will find some useful suggestions for handling nettlesome colleagues. At a minimum, we hope these will convince managers that they have to deal with bothersome colleagues individually and that they cannot rely an style, coercion, or corporate platitudes to make their relations productive.

How to Get What You Need from 10 Types of Problem Colleagues

THE TANK: Pushy, loud, and forceful, or with the quiet intensity of a laser, the tank assumes that the end justifies the means.

What ís happening: When youíre under attack by a tank, youíre seen as part of the problem. The aggressive behavior is meant to shove you back on course or to eliminate the obstacle you represent.

Attitude adjustments: Any attempt to attack, defend, or withdraw will work against you. Instead, you have to restrain these reactive tendencies, find the courage to stand your ground, and then step forward to face the opposition.

Your goal: Command respect. Your behavior must send the clear signal that you are strong and capable. Remember, tanks donít attack people they respect.

Action plan:(1) Hold your ground; (2) Interrupt the attack; (3) Acknowledge the tankís main point; (4) Provide a two-sentence justification for your position.

THE SNIPER: This covert operator identifies your weaknesses and uses them against you. Specialties include behind-your-back sabotage or well-aimed putdowns in front of the crowd.

What ís happening: Sniping happens for various reasons, including frustration, resentment, and efforts to get attention from other managers.

Attitude adjustments: Develop an attitude of amused curiosity. This way, you can shift attention away from the critical comment or action to the sniperís obvious hostility.

Your goal: Bring the sniper out of hiding.

Action plan: (1) Stop, interrupt yourself, and dramatize your awareness that the sniper has taken a shot; (2) Ask the sniper to explain the relevance or intent of his statement; (3) Hold your ground if the sniper becomes a tank; (4) Meet privately with the sniper and try to bring the grudge to the surface; (5) Suggest a civil future.

THE KNOW-IT-ALL: This person wonít take a second to listen to your clearly inferior ideas.

What ís happening: Their intent is to get things done in the way they have predetermined is best. As a result, they are very controlling.

Attitude adjustments: Commit yourself to being flexible, patient, and clever when dealing with this person. Make it a game, or your resentments will build to an explosion.

Your goal: Open the know-it-allís mind to new information or ideas.

Action plan: (1) Be prepared and know your stuff; (2) Restate their ideas as if they were brilliant; (3) Show how your ideas take their brilliance into account; (4) Soften your pitch, using mannerisms like "I was just wondering if..."; (5) Try to turn the know-it-all into a mentor.

THE THINK-THEY-KNOW-IT-ALL: Exaggerating, misleading, and distracting, these legends-in-their-own-minds pull you off track.

What ís happening: These people have a strong people focus, since people are the source of the attention and appreciation they crave. They have the knack for learning just enough about a subject to seem conversant.

Attitude adjustments: Resist the temptation to confront their superficiality. This could lead them to even more volubility, and affect the ideas of colleagues who donít know any better.

Your goal: Get people to react to their ideas as if they are a minor annoyance.

Action plan: (1) Acknowledge their positive intent; (2) Clarify for specifics; (3) Describe the situation as it really is but donít embarrass them; (4) Compliment them when they actually do contribute.

THE GRENADE: When they blow their tops, shrapnel hits everyone in range. Then the smoke clears, and the cycle begins building to a critical mass again.

What's happening. Blowing up is a last-resort defense against the feeling of unimportance. Over time, it becomes the first line of defense.

Attitude adjustments: During an explosion, envision the grenade as a two-year old who is having a tantrum. Or, imagine the hysterical grenade with a cream pie in the face.

Your goal: Take emotional control of the situation, when the grenade blows up.

Action plan: (1) Get their attention, maybe through repeating their name; (2) Show your genuine concern for the person and his problem; (3) Take time off, be- fore addressing the problem; (4) Long-term, invest time in talking to this person and giving them an option to blowing up.

THE YES PERSON: Yes people overcommit to please and leave a trail of unkept commitments.

What ís happening: These are nice people who want everything to work out. But they donít feel responsible for not following through, because they see circumstances as beyond their control.

Attitude adjustments: Recognize that this personís top priority is getting along. See the resulting overcommitment and disorganization as its by-product.

Your goal: Get commitments you can count an.

Action plan: (1) Make it safe to be honest; (2) Help them to plan; (3) Extract honest and achievable commitments; (4) View every interaction as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship.

THE MAYBE PERSON: They keep putting off crucial decisions until decisions make themselves.

What 's happening: These people are paralyzed by the possible downside outcome of any decision.

Attitude adjustments: Accept your frustration or irritation before you contact these peers.

Your goal: Help them think decisively.

Action plan: (1) Give them a comfort zone for making the decision; (2) Help them explore the options; (3) Describe your decision-making system; (4) Reassure them by reminding them there are no perfect decisions.

THE NOTHING PERSON: No verbal feedback. No nonverbal feedback. They seal their mouths and stare past you as if youíre not there.

What ís happening: Their task or interpersonal expectations are unrealistically high. They have withdrawn in frustration.

Attitude adjustments: Be patient. Communication diminishes further if you become angry with those having low levels of assertiveness.

Your goal: Persuade the nothing person to talk.

Action plan: (1) Set aside same time and then ask the expectant open-ended questions; (2) Lighten up your interaction.

THE NO PERSON: These discourage every initiative and drive others to despair.

What 's happening: This is a task-oriented person, who will get things right by avoiding all mistakes.

Attitude adjustments: Be patient. This is something you canít change through occasional office interactions.

Your goal: Transition from fault- or obstacle-finding to problem-solving.

Action plan: (1) Go with the flow; (2) Use them as a resource; (3) Leave the door open, so that they can come back to you when ready; (3) Parody their negativity. They may respond by saying theyíre not "that bad" and then making a decision.

THE WHINER: They whine incessantly and carry the weight of the world on their shoulders.

What ís happening: This person suffers from an in-ability to see what could be and compensates by focusing on whatís wrong.

Attitude adjustments: Donít agree with their complaints, since this encourages further whining; donít disagree, since they will restate their problems;

Your goal: Transition to problem solving.

Action plan: (1) Listen for the main points; (2) Interrupt and get specific; (3) Shift the focus to solutions; (4) Show them a future; (5) Draw a line and stone wall their whining, if they wonít accept a solution.

(Source: Dealing With People You Canít Stand)


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