Communicating with Difficult People: Six Ways to Succeed with Crankpots

The workplace harbors an abundance of crankpots–people who wouldn’t know a smiley face if they saw one. Communication becomes difficult, and at times impossible. Consider these six ways to succeed with the disgruntled ones.

The workplace harbors an abundance of crankpots–people who wouldn’t know a smiley face if they saw one. Certainly they couldn’t join the Optimist Club. They remind me of a character in the comic strip Li’l Abner, who went everywhere with a dark cloud over his head. Now and then, thunder rumbled and lightning struck. Sound familiar?

We have trouble pleasing crankpots. Communication becomes difficult, and at times impossible. That’s why I am going to offer six ways to succeed with the disgruntled ones. These strategies worked very well for me during twenty-three years of management, and I still find them useful:

ONE: Make sure most of your communication with crankpots happens face-to-face. Crankpots are prone to misinterpret E-mails and phone conversations. They make misguided assumptions, because you are not there to reinforce your message through your posture, gestures, and facial expression.

Many times, you will prevent escalation of problems by saying, “I appreciate your call. I suggest we meet for a few minutes to continue our discussion.”

“But,” you may wonder, “doesn’t this take more time?” In the short run, yes, but in the long run no–because you will save time by reaching agreement sooner and forming a mutually satisfactory plan with specific action steps.

TWO: Never try to change the crankpot. Trying to alter their communication style will frustrate you, and anger them. Instead, adjust to their style. If they expect highly detailed reports, forget about breaking the ice with jokes or chit chat about sports. Prepare those intricate reports and move along to your next task.

THREE: Become a keen listener, giving full attention to the crankpot every time. One reason this person may be so cranky is because he or she lacks social skills, and may feel lonely. Say, “Please tell me how you came to your decision, so I can understand it fully.” Suddenly, you change from enemy to ally. Truly, you can listen your way to a meaningful partnership.

FOUR: Don’t take their harsh words and grating behavior personally. Remember, they are not singling you out. They treat everybody that way, as long as they can get by with their abrasive approach

FIVE: When conversation becomes confrontation, use this strategy: “Could we schedule a time to talk about this issue tomorrow? I think we will benefit by thinking about the problem individually overnight.” A respite from verbal jousting often creates a more favorable climate for negotiation.

SIX: Arrange to meet with the crankpot in your locale. In his domain, he is likely to act more domineering. In yours, she has less likelihood of feeling she commands the turf. If there is a home field advantage in sports, the same holds true for the business world.

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