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Labour Complexity

How to Deal With Difficult People

Everyone’s got ‘that guy.’ You know, the one you envision punching in the face daily. Here’s how to deal with them without a lawsuit or getting fired.

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Difficult

Can you believe this guy? Never acknowledges your presence. Interrupts you in meetings. Yawns in your face. Mocks your wardrobe. Smacks his chewing gum. Talks to you like you’re eight years old. Keeps asking to borrow R20 even though the chip packs in the vending machine are only R5.

Never pays you back. Slaps you on the back while you’re drinking coffee. Exists on the earth. Haunts your dreams.

You gonna respond to all that offence? Of course you are. But you’re not going to reveal that you can’t stand the guy. You’re not going to act annoyed. Acting annoyed or put upon or beleaguered suggests that you have lost some control, that you’ve been thrown off your game.

Related: 4 Ways to Diffuse a Toxic Workplace

In business, restraint is the only means of disarming the jerk.

(That and, you know, firing, ending your partnership with or having the jerk arrested for stealing your money and slapping you. But for the purposes of this column, let’s assume your counterpart must, for professional reasons, remain in your universe.)

Staying clean when things get dirty

Etiquette is about taking the high road. But when dealing with someone you can’t stand, it’s not enough to take the high road. You want to be in a car on that high road. Better yet: A large truck. Windows up

Both hands on the wheel. You want to stay clean. You don’t want to provide the other party with any evidence that you can be a jerk yourself. If the person’s behaviour is actually sinister, then you’re only falling into their trap. And there’s a lot at stake when you fight jerkiness with jerkiness.

Remember that you might be in the truck, but (and this metaphor is about to get a lot more strained) you’re pulling a trailer that is your business and your reputation. Big trailer. Huge. With fragile cargo.

“For me, it’s the ten-second rule – it’s not doing anything on the spot,” says Gianna Provenzano, CEO of Gianna and Company, a US-based wedding- and event-planning business. “Once you say something, you can’t pull it back in. It’s about picking your fights.”

Ten seconds at a minimum. We’d suggest 20, even 30. A minute. Maybe an hour. In business, 80% of responding appropriately is not responding at all. What we’re talking about is under-reacting.

The problem with any kind of talking in a professional environment is that you’re giving up your position. And when you act indignant, your position is revealed to be a swamp of weakness and bad temper. An overt response is almost always a mistake. You might be in a swamp of indignation, but you don’t want to reveal that.

You’re going to regret doing battle. And you’re going to regret it because a battle can happen only when someone gets to win. But there’s no winning among associates.

As Tom Junod, my colleague and long-time Esquire writer, said in his essay A Philosophy of Fighting: “Anyone can win … if they’re willing to win at the cost of love and respect. The question is, who can abstain from winning, who can resist the temptation of winning.”

Winning is what businesses do. Navigating is what business people do. An interpersonal issue is never conquered; it’s traversed.

Recalibrate your simmering rage

If the first thing to do is shut up, the second thing to do is think of a few things that might be causing the other person to behave in a way that you can’t stand. Maybe they lost a lot of money at the horse track.

Maybe their father never said, “I love you.” Maybe their underpants are literally, somehow, in defiance of the laws of physics, in some sort of knot. This will cut through your outrage and recalibrate you back to the sympathetic human being you are. And once you’re recalibrated, you should do this: Stare.

Look bewildered.

Say, “Huh.” 

Bemused is the reaction you’re going for. Say “Huh” the same way you would say it if you were walking down the street and saw a Chihuahua walking on its hind legs while wearing a sailor suit.

You know, “Huh.” You’re not smiling. You’re not frowning. You’re nonplussed. The series of questions implied by your furrowed brow is: What’s wrong with you? Why would you behave in such a manner? Where does one find such a tiny sailor outfit? Bewilderment is underrated. It places the onus on the offender to answer a question, without you having to ask it.

It’s about breaking the expectation of the offending party, according to Elisa Camahort Page, co-founder and COO of BlogHer, a women-focused cross-platform media network:

“It’s all about ‘hands,’ as Seinfeld would say. If you can’t have the upper hand, you at least have the equal hand. It’s very psychological. You’re trying to disarm their usual pattern.”

Is it passive-aggressive? Of course it is. But in the relatively dignified environment of business, this is the only kind of aggressiveness available to you. So employ it.

It’s an elegant thing, disrupting the jerk. The offender has pushed things to a state of imbalance. Your subtly expressed bewilderment will recalibrate the situation, and the calibration is exclusively in your favour. You’ll be in an advantageous position: Free to go about your business.

Related:

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Key Technical Matters

  • Fight the urge to fight — verbally or physically. Psychologically is fine.
  • When talking to someone you can’t stand, never use the phrase, ‘I have to be honest.’ What follows won’t be pretty, and honesty isn’t necessarily the right approach.
  • Make a list of the things you don’t like about the person.
  • Cross off the things that are minor nuisances.
  • If there are more than five things still on the list, you may be dealing with a jerk.
  • If there are more than ten things still on the list, you may, in fact, be dealing with a sociopath.
  • To determine if the person you can’t stand is your enemy, say the person’s name out loud. If you are squinting and shaking your fist, the person is your enemy
  • If you are squinting, shaking your fist and sneering, then the person is your archenemy.
  • If you are squinting, shaking your first, sneering and stroking a white cat, then you are an evil genius in a James Bond movie, and you need to relax.

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Labour Complexity

Charity Begins At Home This Festive Season

3 Ways to invest in your own employees.

Nation Builder

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We often only think of corporate social investment (CSI) as an organisation’s actions in the surrounding communities (philanthropy and volunteering), but CSI is also inward facing. By promoting employee well-being, your business can be a vehicle for change, not only in the society around it, but also directly in the lives of those working there.

Here are some ways you can invest in your own employees during the festive season:

1. Involve your employees in a higher purpose

This might sound like a bit of circular reasoning, but studies have shown that involving employees in CSI activities has several benefits. People involved in meaningful activities tend to be more motivated and willing to go that extra mile because of the higher good associated with the work. CSI programmes also:

  • Increase co-operative behaviour and employee relationships
  • Enhance the sense of company identity
  • Improve employee retention and commitment
  • Create an attractive company culture.

Related: What’s The Fuss About Corporate Social Investments?

2. Provide the space for physical and mental breaks

The end-of-year and festive period is often a very stressful period. Balancing festive and family duties with increased pressure at work due to colleagues taking leave, looming year-end targets and planning for the next year can take a toll.

You, as the employer, can ease this stress by ensuring that there are systems in place that define holiday working policies. Promote time and productivity management to plan workflows and keep the momentum going in these last weeks of the year. Also make sure you have effective communication strategies in place for plans that are in the pipeline for the new year, so that employees can get their heads around upcoming changes. This will allow employees to plan ahead and build in time to switch off, knowing that all of the boxes have been ticked.

3. Constructive feedback/motivation

Also, take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for the hard work that your staff has put in throughout the year. As the saying goes “valued employees are valuable employees.”

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Company Posts

How Medical Savings Accounts Are Changing – For The Better

By Jeremy Yatt, Principal Officer of Fedhealth

Fedhealth

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The concept of medical savings accounts (MSA) emerged in the industry in the early 1990s, reputedly when Discovery founder Adrian Gore was working at Liberty. At that time medical scheme benefits for different kinds of day-to-day healthcare were specified, so for example, you’d get a certain amount of Rands to spend on your over-the-counter medicine, or for optometry services. But this was problematic, as people’s daily medical needs are all so different. So, you’d have medical aid members calling their medical schemes saying, “I haven’t used my spectacle limit this year, so can I transfer it to use on medication instead?”.

The idea for MSAs was to pool these separate benefits into a total Rand amount, that you could then spend how you wanted, and more importantly, retain if you didn’t use them all. Initially, medical schemes were reluctant to follow this idea, as they thought it would lead to under-servicing: medical aid members might be unwilling to spend their savings, and so might not get the proper day-to-day medical attention until it became a crisis and they were hospitalised. However this was not the case, and MSAs proved very popular.

At first, there was no real limit on how much of your contributions as a member could go into your MSA, so most schemes allocated around 40-50%. Many schemes also pushed major medical procedures like MRI scans into savings, which was effectively a way of forcing members to self-fund these costly medical expenses. As a result, the Medical Schemes Act was amended in 1998 to impose a 25% limit on the benefits that could be put into MSAs, which largely forced the schemes to be responsible for these major costs.

Related: Why Your Employees’ Health Is Your SME’s Wealth

Under the previous structure there was no disincentive not to use your benefits, particularly as they didn’t roll over from year to year like Medical Savings do. It was therefore not uncommon for a call centre to get queries from members asking how much was available in their different benefit areas, so that they could make sure they used them all up.

MSAs solved these sorts of problems by giving medical aid members increased convenience and autonomy, which is why schemes have been using them for the past 20+ years.

The concept of an MSA isn’t far removed from a loan. Like a loan, an MSA lets you use a sum of money when you want to, but you still have to pay for it regardless of whether you use it or not. It forms part of the registered gross contribution to the medical scheme. Take the example of a member who has R12 000 they can access in their MSA each year. Effectively they are paying for this “loan”, contributing R1000 a month, starting in January. However an MSA means they can use all of that R12 000 upfront, such as if they need expensive dental treatment (crowns etc.) at the start of February that costs R12 000.

In this situation, the member has only paid for R1000 worth of that R12 000 “loan” (with their January contribution), so they effectively “owe” the medical scheme R11 000, which they then pay off over the remainder of the year. If the member left the scheme straight after their dental work, the scheme would then contact the member to repay the R11 000, as they still owe that amount.

Related: Is There A Link Between Physical And Financial Wellness?

The concept of giving members access to medical financing led us to develop our new MediVault offering for day-to-day medical expenses. Describing it as a loan holds negative connotations for some, but it’s not that different from the concept of an MSA: in fact, we see the MediVault as a natural evolution. All it means is that you won’t need to pay for day-to-day savings upfront. Instead, you’ll be allocated money for these everyday medical expenses in your personal MediVault and, once you’ve taken the money out, you only have to pay it back over a period of 12 months – completely interest-free. This is a far better option than taking out an expensive loan from a traditional loan company, or getting it from an unscrupulous loan shark.

Our MediVault offering is not at all about loaning funds to people irresponsibly. We’re not creating a monster that’s going to indebt you – we’re just changing the way you can access funds for your healthcare. After all, health is everyone’s most worthwhile investment, and we want to give people the flexibility to make it their top priority.

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Labour Complexity

Year-End Reviews Are Not Always A Positive Experience

This is largely due to parties entering into it without proper preparations, thinking that it can be done in one meeting.

Adri Dörnbrack

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Performance reviews are similar to entering a race. It’s all about race day, but what you put in before the event (the discipline to wake up and train, the commitment to push yourself and stick to your training plan) is what makes race day either a great positive journey or a terrible experience. The same principle applies to performance reviews. It should not be a once-a-year meeting. It should be part of the monthly job description for both the manager and employee to be able to compare, adjust and review on an ongoing basis. Then, once a year, all the insights gathered during the year should be reviewed to plan for the next year. 

Performance excellence reviews contribute to the culture of a company

We always say that attitude determines outputs or achievements. Personal attitudes, and the character of the business, is the culture. A great culture will lead to great achievements.

Performance excellence reviews are the tool we use to compare, adjust and shape what we want to achieve and then benchmark to know if it has been achieved. 

Employee performance reveals a lot about the business’ achievements. A business is great when it is profitable, cares about and looks after their people, and contributes towards the wellbeing of society and/or the planet. It is all about performance. What you put in is what you get out. And this is what we need to understand. 

Related: How to Set Up Employee Assessments

Performance excellence reviews can be a positive experience

Know the individual and their needs. There are really no one size fits all generic option.

There are however a few general good practices :

  • Managers should firstly understand the value that performance excellence reviews contribute towards overall achievements.
  • When the manager is positive about the reviews and the value it adds, automatically the employees follow.
  • On a monthly basis, review the employee’s feedback relating to the progress of the functions / tasks.
  • Be understanding as a manager – not all functions might haven been able to be completed due to job changes or the complexity of a growing job function.
  • As employee, understand that a manager is employed to manage the performance of the team, the department and the business. This entails understanding the employees’ performance.
  • New employees need to be reviewed more frequently eg. Bi weekly. When the employee has found their feet, review monthly or bi monthly.
  • Do not review performance once a year only. Review frequently, and once a year have a focused meeting around performance to discuss what was achieved during the last 12 months.
  • Managers should be responsible, and held accountable, to get all staff to complete their reviews (monthly, quarterly etc). It is the managers responsibility and it should be one of their functions.
  • Employees should know that performance reviews are simply there to understand the job, and help to align the job and the person’s talents to get the best outputs. It’s about continuously striving towards efficiency and effectiveness.
  • As a manager: Communicate progress feedback and offer assistance.
  • Be consistent. Review frequently.
  • Celebrate achievements.

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