How to Manage People You Don’t Like

It’s bad enough if you have to work with people you can’t stand – but what if you manage them?

Well, one quick solution is to just fire an obnoxious twit.

Unfortunately, while that may give you a brief respite, you may soon be forced to acknowledge the twit was actually very talented, and now you have the headache of trying to recruit and train his replacement.

The reality is that you’re going to be required to manage lots of people you don’t like. But it’s your job to manage people and their skills, and that means finding a way to bring out the best in them to get the job done – and not lose your last shred of sanity.

Here are some of the ways you can manage these difficult people and redirect them to more positive behavior as outlined in “Dealing With People You Can’t Stand” by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner:

  • Root out discontent. If you’ve got an employee who is like a sniper in the bushes just waiting to take a shot, don’t ignore him. If you get a snide comment, address it in a neutral tone. Try asking, “When you say that, what are you really trying to say?” Be aggressive and direct with such an employee to keep the situation from growing worse. Often this will allow you to then direct the person in a more positive way.
  • Stand up to pushy employees. These aggressive types may begin arguing, pointing out the strength of their position and trying to get others to cave in. In this case, you’ve got to interrupt the tirade by saying the person’s name calmly about three times. Then, quickly backtrack what you heard as the main point of the person’s argument and move on to the bottom line. By outlining how you think the outcome can be achieved, you keep the process moving forward in a positive way without letting the aggressive employee completely hijack the discussion.
  • Listen to the whiners. This can be unpleasant, but necessary if you’ve got someone who complains that nothing is right and there are no solutions. Write down the complaints and tactfully interrupt the person to get specifics. Then, ask for the whiner’s help and shift the focus to finding solutions.
  • Deal positively with the voice of doom. Every office has one – the employee who figures nothing will ever go right and manages to pull everyone into their pit of despair.  Such folks often have personal trials that have sunk them to these depths, but what’s important is that you not get sucked in with them. Find ways to say, “You’re doing a wonderful job!” In addition, look at them as a sort of an early warning system – let them dissect and destroy every idea to look for flaws and then tell them how much you appreciate their efforts.
  • Don’t ignore the shadow. This employee is often quiet and withdrawn and may retreat further in frustration when things go wrong. Ask open-ended questions in an expectant way, requiring a response from her.  Use humor to break down the silent wall erected by this personality type, or try guessing what the problem is to get a response. Show this person the future by telling her what can happen if she continues to be unresponsive. When she does talk, listen carefully and don’t interrupt. Another option is to try and first engage the person via email or text to break down the communication barriers.

In their book, Brinkman and Kirschner also outline how you can have open and honest discussions with people you have trouble communicating with. They suggest you can:

  • Use “I” language. Use phrases such as “From my point of view…” and “The way I see it….” that can help your words seem less combative. “They tell your difficult people that what you’re expressing is your truth, rather than claiming to be the truth. This makes listening to you more comfortable and less oppressive,” they say.
  • Be specific about problem behavior. Avoid comments such as, “every time we are at a meeting, you always exaggerate.” Instead, provide specific examples of the problem behavior.
  • Point out the dead ends. To motivate employees to change, you have to show them how “something important to them is lost because of the behavior,” they advise.
  • Suggest new options. As a manager, you can offer some specific suggestions on what an employee can do differently in certain situations and what a likely outcome will be. “Perhaps the biggest obstacle to being honest with people is concern about hurting their feelings,” they say. “But you do not do them a favor by withholding information and allowing them behaviors that don’t work for them either.”
  • Reinforce behavioral change. When an employee makes the effort to change his behavior, it’s critical that you catch them in the act of doing it right. When you see or hear them acting in a desirable way, try to immediately acknowledge and appreciate them.

How do you manage people you don’t like?













Anita Bruzzese

Anita Bruzzese is a syndicated columnist for Gannett/USA Today on workplace issues and the author of “45 Things You Do That Drive Your Boss Crazy.” She has been on the Today show, and quoted in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, Self.com and BusinessWeek.com. Her website, 45things.com, is listed on the Forbes top 100 websites for women.

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