Dealing with Difficult People


Project managers, by virtue of their position, have the opportunity to work with all types of people. While people are a pleasure to lead the majority of the time, some can be downright frustrating, especially if noncooperative for whatever reason. Indeed, many fellow colleagues have told me that being project manager would be great if not for the people!

One category of difficult people are procrastinators. Procrastinators, of course, are people who do not act unless something impels them to do so.

In an excellent book by Linda Sapadin with Jack Maguire, titled It's About Time , [18] the authors identify six styles of procrastinators: Perfectionist, Dreamer, Worrier, Defier, Crisis Maker, and OverDoer.

Perfectionists are the people who must do everything according to their high standards or it is not worth doing. If rattled with fear, they will probably never start. Why? They hold such high expectations for themselves that they do not want to dash them with imperfection. Dreamers are speculators. They never get beyond the idea or vision. They are, essentially , masters of hyperbole. Worriers have a constant need for security. They may find it difficult to move forward because it means taking them from their comfort zones. So they specialize in avoidance . Defiers are rebels. They break all the rules and the first one to break is the person in authority. They see everything as a threat to their autonomy and individuality . They do not act simply because project managers want them to. Crisis Makers are notorious for turning a "mole hill into a mountain." They turn everything into high drama, to the point of crisis. They overreact, placing great stress on themselves and others around them. The emotion gets so intense that they are unable to act. The OverDoer is someone who cannot and will not make choices or establish priorities. To them, everything is of equal importance and they cannot say "no." They have a "mountain of things to do" and, of course, nothing gets done.

According to Sapadin and Maguire, each style exhibits three fundamental characteristics. First, they do not understand why they act the way they do. Second, they rationalize or excuse their behavior. Third, they feel regret . [19]

So what must a project manager do? Wait around for them to act?

Perhaps the best approach is for a project manager to shift the burden to procrastinators. They can have the procrastinators provide options to move forward and have them select the best one. If they refuse to select one, explain the impact of their delay on others and on the overall project. If they still refuse to select an option, call a meeting with other stakeholders, raise the issue, and let peer pressure do the work. It has never failed me. Also, once the procrastinator makes a commitment, give it the widest visibility.

Failure to deal with procrastinators has severe consequences on morale and esprit de corps. It tends to drag others down. It frustrates others who depend on a procrastinator's work as well as delays progress.

By far the best work on dealing with a wide variety of "less than pleasant people" is Robert Bramson's Coping with Difficult People . [20] He identifies seven patterns of difficult people. The first category is the Hostile Aggressive, consisting of three subsets : Sherman Tanks, Snipers, and Exploders. As their names imply, they seek to dominate or destroy. The second category is the Complainers. They "bitch and moan" constantly. Nothing is satisfactory and they take no responsibility to resolve complaints. The third category is the Super-Agreeables. They are the people who are the "nice guys" who "put up a front." They will agree, but do not expect them to follow through with their agreements. The fourth category are the Negativists. Close cousins to the Complainers, they are the nay-sayers who insist that, no matter how good something is, it will not work. The fifth category is the Know-It-All Experts. They think of themselves as being the best and the brightest and, by God, they will let you know it. Naturally, they are arrogant and condescending. The sixth category is the Indecisives. These people are direct kin of the procrastinators. They cannot and will not make a decision. The seventh category is the Silent and Unresponsives. They respond to project managers with a terse response or none at all.

Bramson states that people in general must learn to cope with a person who fits in one or more of these categories. Otherwise, the balance of power will be in their court , for example, not the project manager's. [21]

Whatever pattern of behavior dealt with, ways exist to cope with it. People, project managers in our case, can avoid letting their own behavior escalate the negative behavior pattern of the other person. They can then more readily cope with the person exhibiting the unpleasant behavior. They can, for example, pick and choose the moment to execute their plan to cope. They can also follow through on the effectiveness of their coping. [22]

[18] Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire, It's About Time , Penguin Books, New York, 1997, pp. 6 “14.

[19] Linda Sapadin and Jack Maguire, It's About Time , Penguin Books, New York, 1997, pp. 6 “14.

[20] Robert M. Bramson, Coping with Difficult People , Dell, New York, 1981, pp. 4 “7.

[21] Robert M. Bramson, Coping with Difficult People , Dell, New York, 1981, pp. 4 “7.

[22] Robert M. Bramson, Coping with Difficult People , Dell, New York, 1981, pp. 159 “179.




Leading High Performance Projects
The Photoshop CS2 Speed Clinic: Automating Photoshop to Get Twice the Work Done in Half the Time
ISBN: 193215910X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2003
Pages: 169

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