Dealing with Problem People (Part 2)

Dealing with Problem People (Part 2)

Dealing with people can sometimes be difficult. For a Project Management Professional (PMP)®, troublesome stakeholders can lead to sleepless nights and tempt us into easier ways of life, like juggling chainsaws. However, as we saw in the last article, focusing on problem behaviours and confronting these will help us to surmount these issues. In that article, we met some types of problem behaviours. Here we will continue to explore these behaviours, taken from Peter Honey’s book, “Problem People and How to Manage Them”.

“Arrogance” is a problem. Loud mouthed people can intimidate others in meetings and will dominate discussions. There is a temptation to put these people in their place by highlighting mistakes they made, but that can be counter-productive. Using techniques like Delphi estimation can ensure that everyone gets a say. Honey also recommends getting the arrogant person to mentor shy people so that they can stand up for themselves. He also suggests giving the person fulsome praise in public in the hope that s/he will respond with modesty.

The “Authoritarian” person may come from a culture with a lot of power distance (see our culture article). As well as being bossy, these people are very uncomfortable with chaos and demand order in their lives – we would call them “control freaks”. They can do very well in areas requiring order – such as version control or quality. If your boss is authoritarian, be sure to demonstrate that you are in control of the project. Instead of confronting the boss with problems, ask for opinions on a range of possible solutions. Be calm!

“Boasters” can be disastrous. If the unwitting project manager takes them at face value, s/he could end up with people assigned to critical activities who are totally out of their depth. Record all promises in writing. If a boaster claims to be expert in an area, get them to pitch for work in writing. Then, if they prove inadequate in the job, you will be able to confront them. If they can see that their boasting means they are no longer trusted, it should lead to more realistic predictions.

We have all met the “Shop Steward” or “Bolshie” character, who seems to delight in stirring up discontent. These can be very dangerous in unionized organizations because the fostered discontent can lead to strikes. As always, gather facts and confront the person. It is critical not to let this fester as bolshie behaviour can lead to strikes. If there are genuine issues, work to resolve them.

While it is unpleasant to find a “Bore” next to you on a long flight, project managers need to be alert for bores on the team. They can cripple meetings with long, rambling anecdotes. Adopt a very business-like approach to meetings. At a previous company, the polite but firm rebuttal was: “this is more interesting than relevant”. Ensure that points are made succinctly. However, a balance should be drawn: if something needs discussion, the team should not feel under pressure to reach a decision prematurely. However, the project manager needs to be constantly on the lookout for discussions heading off on tangents.

The “Buck Passer” is never wrong and can get “Bolshie” when confronted about failures. Unlike the “Boaster”, the “Buck Passer” will have a range of plausible excuses at hand. The only way to deal with this is to give the person public responsibility for the next task; having blamed everyone else for the past failure, it is only reasonable to assume that they are the best person to drive things. Make sure that the buck stops!

“Bureaucrats” love forms and procedures. This makes them good at roles that are repetitive and require attention to detail. However, this sort of person is unlikely to display initiative and can be an adept “Buck Passer” if blame is in the air.

“Coasters” are people who are either working their notice or are about to retire. They can be very disruptive as they will happily spend their last days chatting with co-workers and dragging everyone’s productivity down. The best thing to do is to give them plenty to occupy them. Handing over their work to others is very useful and preparing a report on their time in the company is another interesting occupation – if done properly, it can provide profound insights into the workings of the team. PMPs® will remember the “Close Project or Phase” process – make sure you close out a person’s employment properly.

“Conservatives” are a bit like “Bureaucrats”. They dislike change and can be cynical about new ideas. While useful as Devil’s Advocates, they can stifle initiatives – so organize change in an incremental fashion. Conservative stakeholders can prevent your project from going ahead, so it is important for any PMP® to be able to justify the need for the change the project represents.

“Defensive” team members need careful management. They can easily twist criticism of their actions into a personal attack. While your intention is to pick them up on a poor piece of workmanship, you could find yourself on the back foot defending against allegations of sexism, racism and any other form of –ism the “Defensive” people can dream up. This really reinforces the importance of objective criticisms: never make issues personal – it is the behaviour that we need to address. Consider the difference between these two confrontations: “You made a mess of this job!” and “This job is a mess. You were responsible. What went wrong?”

“Procrastinate Now!” is the motto of “The Ditherer”. These are people who just cannot make up their minds. It is useful to ask them to explore the pros and cons, so they can make an objective decision. Putting a time-limit on the decision helps as well. The opposite extreme is the “Dogmatic” person who jumps to conclusions and who also needs to be put through the analysis work to bring objective facts to bear. The only problem is: the analysis can be made to fit the original decision.

We have yet to explore the entire list of problem behaviours, but PMPs® who deal with people every day will have long ago come to the conclusion that Yorkshire people have a point: “There’s nowt as queer as folk!”

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