Episode 101: July 30, 2010
by Lisa B. Marshall / Beth Beutler
Unfortunately we all know a few tattletales, curmudgeons, know-it-alls, and whiners. These negative people are sometimes the people we work and live with. Today: quick and dirty tips to deal with these difficult people. It’s part 3 of our series on how to deal with criticism.
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How to Deal with Difficult People
Beth Beutler and I agreed that Terri Tattletale, Cristopher Curmudgeon, Ned Know-It-All, and Wendy Whiner were some of the most difficult people to deal with. So in this final installment of the How to Handle Criticism series we thought we’d share specific and practical tips for dealing with these chronically negative people.
How to Deal with a Tattletale
Terri Tattletale is the self-appointed police of the workplace. She spends most of her time talking about mistakes made by co-workers. Unfortunately, she’s more likely to tell others rather than go directly to the person because she enjoys stirring up intrigue, controversy, and dissension.
One response to her tattling about someone else is to ask, “Have you spoken directly to Sue about this?” Chances are she will say “no.” You then have an opportunity to say, “Well then, let’s go together to talk to her.” At this point, the tattletale will probably find an excuse to depart the conversation, or make a mental note not to tattle to you again. In a rare case, she may care enough to agree with your suggestion. Any of these results will work.
If you have the starring role in the stories of the tattletale, that can cause an enormous amount of stress. Keep in mind that your conversations and mistakes are the tattletale’s ammunition. The best thing to do is to limit your interactions with her to essential and professional conversations and to keep them as brief as possible (and of course, never pass along problems or personal information about other people). If for some reason your boss asks you to explain something the tattletale told her, you can simply say you don’t remember it happening that way. Then you should explain from your perspective.
How to Deal with a Curmudgeon
Cristopher Curmudgeon is bad-tempered and cranky most of the time. He may have had circumstance in his life that causes him to behave this way, and he may just be pre-disposed to being impatient, rude, and unhappy.
Like the tattletale, try to limit your interactions with this person, or if possible, just overlook his cranky attitude. (I often will say to myself, “He must be having a really bad day.”) Another approach, if it’s appropriate, is to try to lighten the situation with humor, “Wow, I’m glad you weren’t one of the reviewers…”
The bottom line is that you can’t change the other person. So, if a curmudgeon attacks you, the best way to respond is to let him have his say and assume his crankiness has nothing to do with you. The key is not to emotionally react, but instead calmly respond. A good way to respond is to paraphrase what you just heard using neutral language, “It sounds like you disagree with my method of approach because…” Many times the curmudgeon simply wants to be heard, and your paraphrased response might be enough to diffuse the situation.
If not, ideally the next step is to find something you can agree on. “It seems we both agree that the goal is ….” You’ll then need to decide whether or not you want to follow that statement with your own point of view. If you are in front of others, you’ll likely want to respond by clarifying your position directly (and calmly) to the other people present. “I chose this method because…” If others are not around and persuading the curmudgeon serves no benefit, it’s best to simply end the conversation by saying something like, “I suppose we’ll just have to agree to disagree.”
How to Deal with a Know-It-All
The bottom line when dealing with a difficult person is to realize you can’t change the other person.
Ned Know-it-all is someone who prides himself on his vast knowledge of a variety of subjects. He may indeed be very smart ,or perhaps just a storehouse of useless (or incorrect) trivia. Regardless, he has a hard time participating in conversations without appearing to be a show off (remember the bar know-it-all character Cliff Claven from the television show Cheers?)
I’ve found the best way to deal with the know-it-all is to assume a curious, subordinate role. Interact by asking “how” or “what” questions. Tap into their vast knowledge. That is a good approach because it feeds the ego of the know-it-all and potentially allows them to change their point of view as they are explaining something to you. (I try to avoid “why” questions because I’ve found that is often perceived as a challenge).
Remember to thank a know-it-all for his contribution. Often the know-it-all is desperate for respect, and if you give him some, he may be less inclined to work for it through bragging and attention-getting techniques.
Of course, avoiding this person is useful, but sometimes not possible. If necessary, consider finding a neutral third-party who is willing to act as a buffer between you and Ned Know-it-all; that way at least you won’t have to deal with him directly.
How to Deal with a Whiner
Similar to the curmudgeon, Wendy Whiner is never happy. The difference is she finds specific things to whine about where the curmudgeon may be cranky in general. The whiner tends to look at the pessimistic side of things--the glass is half-empty types. Let’s face it, we all whine now and again cause it feels good.
When my kids whine, I like to make a game of it. I exaggerate what they are saying and paint an over-the-top picture of doom and gloom. “Oh my gosh, you have nothing to do. No books to read, no friends to play with, no toys or games in the basement, no backyard to run around in, no crafts to make, oh gosh, you really have NOTHING to do. Maybe you’d like to do some chores or more homework.” Usually along the way, they will start to laugh and realize for themselves the uselessness of whining.
The approach I use with my Dad when he is whining about doing his physical therapy is to offer a reward. Yesterday, in fact, I brought over Philadelphia soft pretzels and told my Dad he would get them after each set of exercises. And of course, my Dad (the negotiator) says, “That’s great, but I’d like some ice cream too!” The idea is to come up with rewards to cut down on the whining.
I use a star system with my kids. If they are whining I tell them I will take away a star; and if they are doing a chore without whining or without me asking, I give them a star. They then collect stars to earn prizes—the more stars the bigger the prizes. (I keep a box of party favors as prizes.)
Another good approach for a whiner is to simply ignore it. If the whining doesn’t get attention, often it will just go away.
Sometimes, however, someone whines because that’s how they ask for support. In this case, listening and offering empathy go a long way. But it’s most important to guide the whiner to take action to solve the problem. Sometimes when my girls come down for breakfast and they are still in their pajamas they’ll say, “I’m cold.” My response is, yes, I can see you are cold. It is cooler down here. So how do you solve that problem?” Then they smile and run back up stairs to get their robes.
So there you have it, some quick and dirty tips to deal with the tattletale, the curmudgeon, the know-it-all, and the whiner.
This is The Public Speaker, Lisa B. Marshall with Beth Beutler this week. Passionate about communication, your success is our business.
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