Working With Porcupine Personalities

Managing the office know-it-all can be a challenge, at best. Yet these individuals often are very talented. Use these tips to reign them in and keep office morale high.


Book Excerpt
FIRST AMONG EQUALS: How to Manage a Group of Professionals
by Patrick J. McKenna and David H. Maister 
The Free Press, April 2002 

We all know the type. They are brilliant at what they do, and make outstanding creative and financial contributions. The only problem is that, in some cases, your firm may be paying dearly simply to retain people like this. Men and women of high achievement can sometimes insist stubbornly on having their own way, and can often be contemptuous of others. In many cases, absolutely no one else wants to work with them. The negative effects of tolerating this behavior can be especially harmful as firms struggle to provide a congenial atmosphere that will foster the retention of their talented people. If you ignore problem behavior, others in your group may not ignore the fact that you are letting standards be lowered and acquiescing to the idiosyncrasies of one individual, albeit a star performer.

Discussions with the difficult employee can be particularly sensitive. But, done with understanding and patience, these are effective ways to deal with difficult people. Your main concern should be with behavior, not personality. Giving feedback that comments on someone’s personality traits is destructive as the individual will only become defensive and subsequently turn off. It is a behavior change that you are after, point out the specific actions in question.


Here are a few steps to take to help resolve these problems:

1) Describe specific situations that illustrate the behavior you are concerned about.

2) Explain why it concerns you and express your desire for change.

3) Seek out and listen to the individual’s reasons for this behavior.

4) Help the individual see how improved behavior will improve his or her career.

5) Ask for ideas and commitment to solving the problem.

6) Offer your encouragement and support.

7) Agree on an action plan and set a date to discuss progress.”

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