Recognizing differences in co-workers, customers helps in problem-solving


July 22, 1991|By Alyssa Gabbay | Alyssa Gabbay,Special to The Sun

Everyone's run into him at one time or another. He's the boss, employee or client who goes into fits of rage when upset, lashing out at anyone within striking distance. The most minor incidents can touch off his anger.

Meet The Bull, one of the personality types inhabiting nearly every office.

Good working relationships are essential to every company's productivity. Yet difficult personalities often interfere.

You can't easily change someone's character. But by recognizing personality traits, you can cope with all kinds of people.

Take The Bull, for instance. When Jeff Reiter, a tax technician at Control Data Tax Filing Services, encounters someone breathing fire, he tries not to take his attacks seriously.

"You let what they say go in one ear and out the other," said Mr. Reiter, whose company, a subsidiary of Control Data Inc. of Minneapolis, Minn., is located in Woodlawn. "You play a role when you deal with them."

Virginia Joyner gets a lot of incensed callers in her work as a secretary at the Office of the Public Defender of the State of Maryland. Ms. Joyner usually listens to their complaints and tries to elicit the information she needs in order to help them.

"If they're really out of control, I say, 'I can't talk to you until you calm down,' " said Ms. Joyner. "I give them my name and tell them to call me back. When they call me back, they're usually very apologetic."

Keeping a clear head and refusing to be intimidated are key in dealing with aggressive people, according to Joe Gilliam, a tTC consultant for National Seminars Group of Shawnee Mission, Kan. Mr. Gilliam leads nationwide seminars on handling difficult people.

Since control and results are often highly important to the "bull" personality, try to give such a person the sense that he's in charge by letting him blow off steam, said Mr. Gilliam. Once he's run out of things to say, ask solution-oriented questions like, "What can we do about this?" or "How can we resolve this?"

Ask for permission to take notes during the conversation, Mr. Gilliam added. That gives the "bull" the perception that he's in control and, more importantly, that he will obtain results.

Other personality types require different methods of handling:

* The Fox. Typically bold and outgoing, The Fox can become cutting and smart-alecky when angry or stressed out. He's the type of employee who makes sharp, sarcastic comments

attacking a subordinate or manager in the middle of a meeting.

The worst mistake in dealing with The Fox is letting him get away with his behavior, according to Mr. Gilliam. Instead, confront him in private.

"You need to let him know that his behavior is offensive to you, or else he'll continue to abuse you horribly," said Mr. Gilliam.

He advised using non-threatening statements such as, "When you attack me publicly, I feel insulted and hurt."

To avoid future attacks, give the attention-starved Fox credit when he does something right, Mr. Gilliam advised.

* The Ultra-Agreeable. In every company, there's the employee who agrees to take on any project, whether he's capable of doing it or not.

As a result, the Ultra-Agreeable often ends up being late with assignments. He may also have built up a reserve of resentment about demands placed on him.

Watch out for unrealistic commitments when dealing with an Ultra-Agreeable, said Mr. Gilliam. Since fear of unpleasant repercussions may cause him to make these commitments, try to create an environment where honesty is non-threatening.

Also, let the Ultra-Agreeable know that he's appreciated.

"The Ultra-Agreeable needs to feel like he's a part of the team," said Mr. Gilliam. "If everyone goes out to lunch and he's not invited, he may take it very badly."

* The Whiner. Some employees try to push their work off onto others by complaining. Often, they're successful.

But instead of accepting The Whiner's work, Mr. Gilliam advised managers to take a different tack. Listen to his complaint without agreeing with it. When he's finished, go over the facts with him and start problem-solving. For example, ask The Whiner how much extra time he'll need to finish a project. Then work out a timetable.

The process may take time, but it's worth it, he said.

"You're putting the problem back in his hands, where it belongs," Mr. Gilliam said.

* The Bump-On-A-Log. The employee who churns out less work than others may not be lazy. He may be a perfectionist, someone overly concerned with quality.

To deal with the Bump-On-A-Log, Mr. Gilliam recommended setting strict deadlines to ensure that projects are completed on time. Reassure him that the quality of his work is high. And encourage him to take risks by asking "What is the worst that could happen?"

"For the perfectionist, the greatest fear is he'll do something that will cause him to fail," Mr. Gilliam said. "If he can see that even if he fails, it wouldn't be that terrible, he can move ahead."

Alyssa Gabbay is a free-lance writer who often cover management issues for The Sun.

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