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Working With Difficult People

Working With Difficult People

A talk at php[tek] 2014.

Laura Thomson

May 22, 2014

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  1. <standard disclaimer> I’m not a psychologist. I’m an engineer(ing manager).

    Your mileage may vary. This is what has worked for me. This presentation may cause nausea, insomnia, hallucinations, tremors, and a strong desire to go back to writing unit tests. !2
  2. Here’s the secret. ! In most cases, it’s not people

    that are difficult, it’s the relationship or the situation that is difficult. !3
  3. You’re probably sitting in this talk because you’re thinking of

    at least one specific person. Your boss? Your employee? Your teammate? Someone in a different team? Your own family member? !5
  4. They did they best they could with what they had.

    Understand the situation they are in better. Ask why. Get to know them. Offer to help. !8
  5. If your only interaction is when something has gone wrong…

    Seek them out. Set up a 1:1. Have lunch or coffee. Invite them. The trust bank: make many small deposits for a rainy day !10
  6. Guidelines for how you will work better together Examples: I

    will keep you up to date when things break. I’ll come to you first if I have a problem. !12
  7. “We all want…” ! “I know people are worried, because

    it’s so important to all of us to get this right.” !14
  8. (Requires bravery.) “Please don’t X.…Y instead, because” “Next time you

    have a problem, come to me or I can’t fix it.” (This usually goes better than you think it will.) !16
  9. Difficult person does annoying thing. You respond by: a) complaining

    to another coworker b) quietly hating them c) sabotaging something they are trying to accomplish d) going and talking to them about it. !19
  10. Reward the behavior you want. “Thank you for doing that

    thing” “…in the way that I asked. I appreciate that you remembered.” Acknowledge in private, to their boss, in public Saying nice things is hard, but gets easier !21
  11. Ask why. Set expectations. Make your queue transparent. Explain reasons.

    Check your reasonableness. Learn to say no. (Not every time!) !24
  12. Your employee isn’t getting any/enough work done, or the quality

    isn’t there, and they just don’t seem to “get it”. !25
  13. Ask why. Depressed/stuck/burned out? Encourage change, help, vacation. “Cruising”? Ego

    vs fear of failure. Perfectionism getting in the way? Teach incremental iteration. Hard/intractable problem? Let them rubber duck it with you. Isolation? Find them a mentor or tribe. !26
  14. Someone doesn’t respect the value or difficulty of your work.

    ! “Can’t we just outsource that?” “All our PR people suck.” “I don’t know what IT thought they were doing.” “That marketing campaign was an embarrassment.” “The engineers on that team aren’t real engineers.” !27
  15. Reach out. Over-communicate. Make your work transparent. Explain why things

    are hard, or were done a particular way. Call people out. This is a “culture smell”. Lead by example. !28
  16. Talk to them. Ask why. Explain your perception. How many

    negative leaders/successful people do you see? Focus their energy into something constructive. !30
  17. If it’s your company, this is easier, but generally: !

    Talk to them about it. Ask for better behavior. If they continue to behave poorly, fire them. (I’m not kidding.) !32
  18. A contributor to your open source project gets a lot

    of coding done, but has…less than awesome social skills. !33
  19. Get to know them - understand why. Call it out

    - “You did this, and it upset me/people because…” Suggest more appropriate behaviors. Community codes of conduct. Enlist help from professional community wranglers. !34
  20. Cultural differences: Not (just) national/ethnic culture (although trust varies) !

    e.g. company culture: “move fast and break things” vs “failure is not an option” vs culture of fear ! project culture: ok to call someone out vs positive feedback vs passive aggression !37
  21. Under stress, personalities change: your “reactive tendency” ! Defensive: “You

    are wrong.” Controlling: “Let me just micromanage this.” Compliant: “…” (while hating everything) ! (Few of us are at our best when things are on fire.) !38
  22. Lack of shared expectations ! When you said: “It’s done”

    You meant: “I have a prototype” / “It’s feature complete” They heard: “It’s ready to ship” !39
  23. History of poor relationship / Lack of trust ! Build

    trust in small regular increments. Behave well. Over-communicate. Be trustworthy. Do what you say you will do. Expect the same. !40
  24. Rule #1: Don’t work with people who behave like this.

    Don’t hire them. Don’t take them as customers, no matter how well they pay. Don’t accept a job working for them. Don’t tolerate these behaviors in your culture. Make it clear they are not tolerated. !43
  25. If this is your customer/client/boss: fire them. I don’t care

    how well they pay. It’s not worth it. !44
  26. If you must work with them:
 Be crystal clear about

    requirements and expectations. Document everything, frequently. Try not to work with them alone (e.g. invite others to meetings). Don’t let yourself be steamrollered: don’t agree to things on the spot. Minimize interactions where possible. !45
  27. ! References: “The No-Asshole Rule” -Bob Sutton “The Field Guide

    to Understanding Human Error” - Sidney Dekker “Snakes in Suits: When Psychopaths Go To Work” -Robert D. Hare Mozilla’s TRIBE training (for volunteers, too) !46