Give Murphy's Law the boot: web resources to work around difficult people

Learn how to improve your work environment in spite of difficult people with these web site resources.

By Russ Kratowicz

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The work environment is supposed to be civilized, tolerant and supportive. It’s tough enough to come in each day to earn your daily bread without things getting nasty after you arrive. When all seems to be going along smoothly in strict accord with these three criteria, it’s easy to start taking things for granted.

But, as you’ve probably figured out by now, real life never works out that way. Mr. Murphy nailed it down quite succinctly: There’s always someone messing things up and knocking our lives off that perfectly even keel.

Every maintenance department should make a concerted effort to ban difficult people, conflict and angry outbursts from the workplace. We’re already short-handed and when the old hands retire, there won’t be anyone to fill in after them. Productivity is at stake here, folks. In the spirit of world betterment, let me take you on a guided tour of the morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free Web resources that can, if nothing else, explain a bit about human psychology. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

Difficult people

Things would be fine if your coworkers were as reasonable and affable as you are. Unfortunately, that expectation is a bit too idealistic to have any traction at all. You’ve got to take them as they come, so you might as well get comfortable doing so. “Learning to Deal With Difficult People” is a brief article based on an interview with Robert M. Bramson, Ph.D. This piece first appeared in the October 2001 issue of Vitality magazine and it offers a few strategies for coexisting with four classes of unpleasant people: the outwardly aggressive, snipers, complainers and silent people. The objective is not to change the traits these people display. The idea is to have the tools that can prevent anyone from hindering your journey up one corporate ladder or another. If that sounds reasonable, have your digital mouse climb the rungs it will find at

Dr. Marilyn Manning at The Consulting Team, LLC, Mountain View, Calif., also weighs in on the topic. A page on her Web site offers some options for handling a variety of quirky folks: the bully, the princess, the passive-aggressive, the baby, the chronically negative, people pleasers and nonplayers. Manning recommends mentally classifying the difficult people with whom you must deal and preparing a crib sheet for each that you can review just before having to interact with them. I wonder if this is where CRM software got its start.

Anyway, pay a visit to When you get there, scroll down, watching the left side of the screen for the article titled “Seven Difficult Personality Types and How to Deal with Them.” Then, click that omnipotent mouse to access the first few paragraphs. If what you see is worth your while, click on the link that brings you the full article. When the PDF loaded on my machine, certain letter combinations – ff, fi and ffi – appeared as small boxes. Be forewarned, the text is more readable once you’re prepared for this typographic oddity.

Is it possible that difficult people often don’t realize the bad ways their behavior patterns affect others around them? Such is the argument put forth in the March 1999 issue of an online newsletter from The Institute for Management Excellence in Lacey, Wash. This edition of the newsletter focuses your attention on only the know-it-all and the do-it-my-way varieties of unpleasant folk. It explores possible underlying psychological reasons they act the way they do, highlights some of the unintended consequences that can befall them and offers tips for handling them when they happen to cross your path. Most importantly for our purposes, the newsletter also includes ideas for getting rid of your own negative characteristics that so irritate your coworkers. Before you leave, be sure to scroll down to “Articles” for links to other Web sites with related content.

Rolling downhill

Generally speaking, the common, ordinary grade of difficult people can be neutralized easily and without any remorse on your part. If they’re your peers on the corporate ladder, you can still stop some of their nonsense. On the other hand, the inherent power asymmetry vis-à-vis one’s immediate supervisor makes thwarting difficult behavior from that quarter a bit more problematic. When the difficulty rains down from just above your head on the organizational chart, you should thank The CMR Group in Boston, Mass., for developing, a site that offers help with difficult-boss problems. This is where you’ll find links to 1,200 articles and resources on handling difficult managers. Many of the offerings offer you a chance to provide feedback via an anonymous e-mail scheme that helps provide you with some plausible deniability should it ever be required. There’s even content for upper management to help them identify difficultism while looking downward and to provide advice about suitable actions should they spot some.

“Why your boss is programmed to be a dictator,” by Chetan Dhruve, is a 44-page philosophical treatise on management that draws parallels with modern political reality. His major premise is that, in the context of leading people, only an elected person can be called a leader. The corollary he claims necessarily follows is that an unelected person is, by definition, a dictator. Once we’re cast in the role of boss or subordinate, there develops a series of so-called emergent behaviors that, in the main, aren’t good for the long-term improvement of the overall organization. In fact, Dhruve argues that employees must be granted the right to vote for whom they would have as their bosses. Order your desk rodent to fetch the contents of for a thought-provoking lunch-hour read.

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