Posted by: Christine Donovan | May 29, 2009

Succeeding with Difficult People: Gossips and Whiners

Yesterday I mentioned that “difficult people” generally fall into three categories:

1. Slightly Irritating – Shame on me if I allow them to bother me; it’s definitely MY problem.
2. Legitimately Annoying  – Whiners, gossips, know-it-alls, etc.
3. Truly Difficult  – They are in the minority; and we can learn tools and skills to deal with them.

Earlier I talked about the Slightly Irritating people, who may crack their gum, click their pens, hum all the time, or get on our nerves with some harmless habit.  

They may be a little irritating, but they usually don’t directly affect us.  If we let every little thing get under our skin, we’re going to have an itchy life. 

I used to work with a lady who was in a constant state of anger and frustration — it even bothered her that a coworker jingled the change in his pocket.  That’s just not healthy; plus it keeps us stressed when there are more stressful things to worry about.

So today I’ll share my thoughts about Legitimately Annoying People. 

Whiners, gossips, social disasters, know-it-alls, and bumps-on-logs, annoy most of us. 

These folks fall in the middle of the difficult people continuum.  They’re a bit more frustrating than the gum smackers, but not as bad as the truly difficult (tomorrow) who cross boundaries and actually get in our way or prevent us from being effective.

So let’s look at some legitimately annoying types and find out how to deal with them.   And remember the adage, “Pick your fights.”  It’s just not worth getting your blood pressure up for minor annoyances.

Ask yourself, when you are having a conversation with Greta the Gossip,  “Is it worth risking our working relationship to say something?” (And this goes for the whiner, the know-it-all, the social disaster, etc).

I personally don’t think it’s worth the risk.  We need to save confrontations for the truly difficult people (Pick your fights!)  As long as she isn’t directly affecting YOU (taking credit for your work, for example), just maintain your sense of humor, change the subject, and/or make an excuse to exit.

If Greta is dying to share a juicy tidbit, you can defend the maligned person and make a remark like… “Thanks Greta, but I’m sure that Joe knows what he’s doing.”  Then change the topic, “How is your project going?”  If you continue to politely defend the party being attacked then change the subject, you can be sure Greta won’t come around much with her rumormongering. 

You aren’t any fun if you won’t join in the game.

Apply the same techniques to the whiner and other annoying types.  Politely disagree or defend the subject of the complaint and then change the subject.  It’s a technique that can easily be learned, become a habit, and it will succeed in two important areas:  It will maintain your working relationship with the other person, and it will stop a conversation you don’t want to be part of.

So the next time your coworker, Wayne the Whiner, drones on and on about “management” (probably the most talked about non-entity in any workplace), just say nicely, “Wayne, we don’t know the issues they are dealing with, we don’t know the whole picture, so I need to refrain from having an opinion until I know more about the situation.  Say, how is your son in Iraq?”

Always works, and Wayne will notably break his whining habit whenever he’s around you. 

While we’re on the subject, let me share some other information about difficult people and conflict in general…

When facing conflict, most people fall into one of these behavioral patterns:

  • Blame someone else.
  • Blame yourself.
  • Blame someone else by forgiving and granting absolution.
  • Assume (or hope) that someone else will bring about the desired change.
  • Expect (or hope) that the solution to the problem will come about spontaneously.
  • Take action yourself.

 Ask yourself how you typically react to conflict.  If it’s any one of the above (except the last one, which is always the best solution), then you need to rethink your approach.

Blaming anybody, even if it’s yourself, never solves anything.  And assuming that the situation will take care of itself is the coward’s way out.  But taking action, making inroads to solving the problem is always the best response. 

That’s leadership; that deserves respect.  If you (tactfully and sensibly) take action in difficult situations, you will ultimately be the one people go to for advice and help. 

BUT, remember to “PICK YOUR FIGHTS.”   (See my previous post – “Could it be me?”)

Usually the people who keep their jobs, get promoted, and generally live happier lives, are the people who don’t take life so seriously, and tend NOT to get into conflicts.

Blessed be the peacemakers…

Be a peacemaker.

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