How to Deal with Monkey Throwers and Other Irritants

The people who take you further may irritate you the most.

Conformists provide steady progress. Contrarians, complainers, and irritants innovate. 


People who want change tend to complain. But some complaints come from dead weight.

Reject monkey throwers. These people are dissatisfied, but want you to make things better for them. They’re more concerned about personal comfort than working toward improvement.

Irresponsible complainers want you to take their monkeys.

Pay attention to complaints from people with skin in the game. They embrace the mission and believe in improvement.

Hang with the dissatisfied, as long as they work to make things better.

When you hear complaints from team members:

  1. Determine if they are contributing-complainers or dead weight. Don’t allow complaints to obscure contributions. Sometimes the people who irritate you the most are making significant contribution. Where would you be without them?
  2. Listen to their concerns. Ask a few questions.
  3. Don’t offer quick solutions.
  4. Ask, “Can we fix this?” If they say, “No,” the issue is commitment. If they say, “Yes,” their mind shifts toward solutions.
  5. Explore what they really want.
  6. Ask, “What are you willing to do to make things better?”
  7. Determine next steps.

The people who take you further are:

  1. Pushy. They don’t go along.
  2. Dissatisfied. They aren’t happy with the status quo.
  3. Different. People who are like you take you where you would have gone. People who are different from you suggest surprising alternatives.

Critic to champion:

Discuss how contributing-critics might add light to their darkness. But don’t expect them to turn into bubbly flower children.

  1. How might they express gratitude? It’s not enough to feel grateful. Gratitude must be expressed to have positive impact.
  2. Tell me three things that are working.
  3. What are the strengths of the people on our team?

How might leaders get the most from people who seem like irritants?