Six Ways to Deal with Messy People
The easiest, short-term leadership strategy is avoiding people. Just hide in your office doing paperwork.
Connecting with people is messy. Hidden baggage bubbles just under the skin. Emotions erupt. Priorities shift. Personal lives collapse. Health declines. Financial stability vanishes. Just when you figure them out, they change.
Disconnection is safe. Treat people like “result-producers” and forget their baggage, frailties, and aspirations. Tell them what to do and kick their butts if they screw up.
Work is work. Ignore personal issues. Organizations aren’t self-help groups and one-on-one time isn’t therapy. Standing aloof is safe.
Professionalism is often protection from connection.
The need to solve messiness ends compassion. The need to fix is arrogance. Humble leaders simply do what they can. Sometimes that’s just asking how things are going.
“In organizational life, you can have influence over others or you can have freedom from others, but you can’t have both at the same time.” Bob Sutton in HBR
- Think, speak, and act optimistically. Pessimists disconnect. Optimism provides courage and strength to get messy. The ability to face problems realistically while maintaining optimism makes leaders trustworthy and inviting.
- Ask about issues unrelated to work. If they bring it up, it’s ok to ask.
- Use personal stories as connection-points. Bring yourself to work.
- Share frailties as well as competencies. Disconnected leaders pretend they have it all together. Their example encourages hypocrisy throughout organizations.
- Stop fixing. Say you care without feeling the need to fix. You aren’t momma. It’s arrogant to think so. You can’t make everything better.
- Adapt your style to suit the individuals you’re dealing with. Disconnected leaders expect others to adapt to them. When you don’t know the best way to deal with someone, ask them.
What’s messy about connecting?
How can leaders build connection with their people?
Good advice for codependent people. Great topic. Leads me to a thought for a future topic; “people who make excuss and victimize themselves”. I have seen this happen far to often.
He that is good for making excuses is seldom good for anything else. ~Benjamin Franklin
Interested to hear how others balance compassion yet hold accountability.
Thanks Mike. I can definitely see that compassion taken the wrong way leads to excuses and victim mentality. I appreciate the angle you are coming at this with.
It starts by being approachable and trusing in other ways. You can’t connect when people are hurting if your arrogant or scary in your day job.
Shut up, Karin! You can’t even spell YOU’RE right! Did I get the wrong-attitude right? 😉
BTW, thanks again for your LetsGrowLeaders post on “When the Troops are Tired” earlier this week. We are self-aware of having change fatigue at work right now and I’m planning to share the piece with my newly formed team.
James, I know… as soon as I hit return, I realized the typo… yikes. Thanks so much, that’s cool to use it with your team… could be a nice conversation starter.
Thanks Karin… and to James, I didn’t even see the”your” issue. 🙂
Now I want you two to play nice.
The link to “When the Troops are Tired” … I agree James. I respect Karin’s insights and compassion on this tough topic.
In my personal experience, larger organizations with lots of cultural inertia towards “professionalism” will discourage messy interactions with words like “it’s not your job”, “it’s not your problem”, “stay focused on your own sphere of influence”, etc., etc., etc.. But as you infer, those negative emotions and actions don’t just magically dissipate. The system as a whole has to acknowledge and at least admit to seeing the elephants in the room.
As I’ve seen studies show in “You Just Don’t Understand” by Deborah Tannen, there is a trend (not a perfect correlation) for men to want to use communication as a means to problem solving. So in a patriarchal culture, the challenge will be to listen and talk without proposing solutions/actions. Even knowing this I find it hard to resist offering solutions to my own wife when she’s sharing a bad experience at work. I’m trying to see that I have add value by just being a good listener with body language that says I’m engrossed in her words.
Thanks James. From a guys point of view, the thought of listening to someone just for the sake of listening is an “unbelievable” concept. 🙂
But, people love to feel heard, even if they don’t get what they want or their problem isn’t solved. Dang! Who would have thunk it. 🙂
The term “connect” rolls off the tongue easily and we all nod our heads until we get serious about doing it….
Love the title, it made me read every word
What is messy about connecting? Nothing
What is messy is not connecting.
The Only way for people some of which are Leaders to build connections is to become an oxytocin generating machine.
See whatever story u come up with to accomplish what Dan asked here today at the end of the day what you tell yourself increases oxytocin if it works and cortisol if it don’t!!! So why not cut to the chase and just look at it from the biological view?
Try a few random acts of ridiculously epic kindness and see how that works out for u today!!! Or maybe just a few simple random acts of kindness. Just depends on your level of oxytocin tolerance I must say!!! Sha—wing!!!!
Not sure what that is and how it applies?
Ok then use your computer and the brain God gave you, goggle oxytocin and figure it out. Hehe
SP back to generating oxytocin!!
Remember be a magnet to those want what u have and as repulsive as possible to those who don’t. Saves valuable time!!!!
Thanks Scott. What’s messy about connecting? Nearly everything.
I am in a room. Simon Sinek video playing.
I look across the room and see another Why Champion. Simon makes a dazzling insightful amazing statement and instantly I get it.
Look across the room at my Why Champ. Our eyes meet. We CONNECT. We get it and each other.
Where is the messy part?
The messy part is all the other folks in the room who were preoccupied with anything else but really hearing what Simon just said. Or it went WAY over their heads.
Trying to get them to understand is the messy.
How simpler can I make it?
Connecting simple clean, not connecting close to impossible and messy.
Just my perspective does not mean u are wrong if u see it another way, just a different perspective.
Any time that “work silos” are created the health of the organization is jeopardized. I have found in my work that when disconnection is occurring at some level, it is a sure sign that the organization is off track. I like Dan’s ideas about dealing with this directly and with compassion, rather than side stepping the issue. Disconnection anywhere is like an infection in the organization, but it is a barometer that can tell the leader what needs to be done.
Thanks Brian. Your insights are uncomfortably true. I particularly like the expression, “disconnection is like an infection.” Gotta love a well turned phrase.
Another great one. ;o)
For me as a leader, dealing with messy people (which I take to mean dealing with people who don’t do things — in any aspect of their personal & professional lives — the way I would) causes me to grow and be a better leader.
If we as leaders were comfortable with the way everyone conducted their personal and professional lives, then one of the ways we can grow as leaders — dealing effectively with all kinds of people — is no longer available to us.
KaPow! Thanks Scott.
You nailed the definition of a “messy person” and in so doing drive a spike in the problem of leadership arrogance.
Hmm. i have a bit of a contrarian view here. While I agree with much of what you say, I believe that you need to be careful when talking of stuff that does not relate to office. It can get out of hand as I have experienced, and with experience learned to balance it better
Thanks Rajiv. Your caution is important.
Thinking positively is the best thing you could do in general for your work place and in personal. You will destress a lot faster this way
Thanks Sam. I neglected positivity for too long. Even when solving problems, optimism is essential. It sounds so simple. How could anyone miss it?
Thank you for a great post. I find this topic very interesting because most of my peoples energy goes to trying to code or understand or comment other peoples action. And if everbody is stressed and some maybe don’t feel appreciated – the circus and the oceans of feelings are floating around. I just started a new job and the job itself is not challenging technically just interesting, what I can’t do I teach me. The real challenge is to cooperate and to connect with the different types of people, from the cleaner to the janitor to the CEO. They are all in different positions and I think responsiveness and a friendly attitiude is good. And when I meet someone who is “messy” I try to find out the reason why. Why is he/she messy or the group. But even if I find the answer – it’s a challenge to get the gruop going in the same direction. Thank you again for your blog.
Reblogged this on Movers, Shakers, Leadership Makers.
To get people to open up you have to build a bridge in which you can both walk. Share mistakes that you have made in the past that they maybe able to learn with out them having to endure the same pain. It displays a certain vunerability that makes you more human, more approachable.
Show that you are sincere, open and really want them and the business to succeed,This is a common goal and shows that there can be a win-win, for both the employee and the company.
The thrid win is yours as a supervisor. It will build a stronger team when everyone learns that shared experinces, whether successful or less than desire results a larger knowledge base for future tasks.
The snyergy that is the result from this type of leadership is unafraid to tackle problems others will run from.
working mostly with teens it’s very hard to not try and fix things. I am beginning to steer those under me with issues towards sources that can help them rather than helping them myself. Unless of course they have asked me to mentor them in an area I am competent in.
Hey coach17….. you know it does not matter that you can’t fix everything for them. The awesome thing is they have someone in there lives that is there for them, that sees them for who they are and does not judge them. But not only that, you can point them in the right direction when they do need that extra help along the way.
I like Dr. Phil’s question…”How’s that working for you?”