Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Review - Coping with Difficult People by Robert M. Bramson

Short review: Difficult people suck. This book will make working with them suck less.

Follow this book and
Difficult people who suck
Will seem to suck less

Full review: Difficult people are a fact of life. Everyone knows someone or several someones who are regularly just impossible to deal with. These are not people who occasionally have a bad day and act out, these are people who consistently display particular types of behavior that engender rancor and anger among those they deal with. In the everyday life one can generally avoid difficult people and the headaches they cause. In the workplace, on the other hand, difficult people are often in positions of authority, or are clients, or suppliers, or are in any number of other positions that make dealing with them necessary. That it is necessary does not, of course, make it any more pleasant. In fact, as the authors of Coping with Difficult People note, one of the primary causes of workplace dissatisfaction that spur people to leave their jobs is the heartburn caused by having to regularly deal with a difficult person on the job.

Coping with Difficult People is one of the rare books offering workplace advice that does not have an overarching theory described in its pages. Nor does the book have any kind of comprehensive advice to plug into your life to maximize your productivity or make your coworkers sing your praises. Instead, the book is about exactly what the title says: dealing with the difficult people you encounter in your life, and specifically the difficult people you have to deal with because your employment depends upon it. Instead, as the book identifies several different types of difficult people, it offers practical advice for dealing with each type, offering strategies designed to use the difficult person's personality traits to your advantage.

The book identifies broad categories of of difficult people: hostile aggressive people, complainers, unresponsive people, incredibly nice people who never deliver, negative people who throw a wet blanket on everything, know-it-alls, and indecisive stallers with a few subtypes described in some of the larger categories. For example, the know-it-all category includes two types - people who actually are experts on something, and people who just puff themselves up as experts with no real knowledge of the subject at hand. The book takes each type in turn, walking the reader through examples of the behaviour displayed by that particular brand of difficult person, showing the reader how to identify exactly what kind of difficult person they are dealing with, and then offering concrete pointers on how to deal with them, defuse their behavior, and possibly influence them to do what you want them to do, or at the very least to prevent them from unloading their nastiness on you.

Of all the books I have read that offer tips on how to make one's working life more tolerable, this is the one that I found had the most immediate practical value. Because the author elected to deal with the problem in discrete segments using individually tailored solutions, rather than trying to come up with some sort of unifying theory to explain all of the difficult behaviors, the advice is detailed and specific, and thus quite useful. Although there will, of course, be outliers who will not respond to the techniques set forth in this book, for the most part, using the methods as presented will probably make one's working life that much easier. For anyone who has to deal with someone who always complains, or tries to roll over them like a runaway tank, simply won't make a decision, or any number of other annoying habits, this book is a must read.

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