HR Management & Compliance

Dealing with People You Can’t Stand

Employment law attorney Michael Maslanka reviews the business book Dealing with People You Can’t Stand: How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst by Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner. Review covers four steps from the book for dealing with “yes” people.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. And there are certain kinds of employees who lay down the asphalt, compress it into place, and paint the lines. Whom are we talking about? The “yes” employees, who always tell you that they’re going to do a project, end up taking on too much, and then fail to come through.In Dealing with People You Can’t Stand, How to Bring Out the Best in People at Their Worst, Rick Brinkman and Rick Kirschner talk about the “yes” employee. Here are some tips they give.

‘Yes’ employee

The “yes” person does not act out of malice but out of a desire to get along with others, and to avoid any kind of difficult conversation or unpleasant feelings, he or she will take on any and all tasks. According to Brinkman and Kirschner, here are some steps to follow:

Step #1: Make it safe to be honest. Like judo, use the weight of your opponents against them. What’s important to “yes” people? Their feelings and their desire to be a teammate and friend. By creating an atmosphere of honesty and speaking about the future of the relationship first, you can increase their comfort level and gently introduce the past into the conversation. You can talk about how they let you down because they took on an assignment that they never should have. Here is a helpful tip: Ask them, “Can I be honest with you?” when starting off the conversation.

Step #2: Talk honestly. “Yes” people tend to be defensive. That is, they will come up with reasons they couldn’t finish the project that they took. Brinkman and Kirschner advise this: Listen to them. Acknowledge their honesty, empathize with them, and explain how much you appreciate their frankness with you. Don’t rush to judgment about their reasons.

Step #3: Help them learn to plan. Go over what they could have done differently on a project and how it would have turned out differently. Ask them if they could go back in time to the original meeting when they undertook a task and what they would have done differently. Help them by getting them to summarize their commitment in writing, setting down their plan of action, and perhaps even give them a weird deadline. The deadline will stand out in their mind because it’s so unusual. (Example: “Please have that report on my desk by 10:23 a.m., a week from tomorrow.”)

Step #4: Speak to the better angels of their nature. That’s a phrase from Lincoln’s inaugural address, which we’ve always found powerful. Don’t feel that someone is acting with negative intent — to sabotage you or sink your project — but presume a positive intent — that she is really trying but just coming up short. You can say, “That’s not like you; I know you care about doing great work and being part of a team.” Give the employee the benefit of the doubt. You know why? If you raise the bar for employees, chances are that they will work hard to meet it. At the end of the day, you get what you project and expect. And if you don’t, then perhaps the employee needs to be at a different job within the company that matches her skills or at a different company where there is a better match. Think about it.

Michael Maslanka is the managing partner of Ford & Harrison LLP’s Dallas, Texas, office. He has 20 years of experience in litigation and trial of employment law cases and has served as Adjunct Counsel to a Fortune 10 company where he provided multi-state counseling on employment matters. He has also served as a Field Attorney for the National Labor Relations Board.

Mike is listed in The Best Lawyers in America and was selected as a “Texas Super Lawyer” by Texas Monthly and Law & Politics Magazine in 2003. He was also selected as one of the best lawyers in Dallas by “D” Magazine in 2003. Mike has served as the Chief Author and Editor of the Texas Employment Law Letter since 1990. He also authors the “Work Matters” column for Texas Lawyer.

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