In this episode:
We all know difficult people. In this episode, Tom helps you learn how to work with the ones in your life!
- Help your employees and coworkers recognize and focus on the right goals
- Beware of “the Bozo Bit”.
- Learn to make difficult people understand you!
Appreciation Starter Script – This guide helps you get people on your side by giving you ways to compliment them. The script contains positive things you can say to others when you can’t think of any!
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[00:00:57] Welcome to the becoming a Geek Leader Podcast. My name is Tom Cooper. As a Geek, I’m on a mission to figure out better ways to lead others at work and at home. Through the Becoming a Geek Leader podcast, I’m sharing what I’m learning so I can help make you more effective at leading people, too. Ready?
[00:01:20] Today, I want to talk about something I know is relevant. It’s a problem that I face all the time and I’m sure it’s something you’ve had to deal with. It’s dealing with difficult people. Now, I worked in tech for a long time and I understand that technology is not simple. In fact, when technology works, it’s fantastic. And when it doesn’t work, you’re hating life. And as hard as technology is, in my experience, people are harder. As challenging as it is to do the technical work that we do, dealing with people sometimes can be the most frustrating thing that we have to do. So in today’s episode, I want to talk about a couple of things that you can do to make a big difference in the way that you interact with others and will help you significantly in the way that you deal with those difficult people.
Tom: [00:02:50] Today’s email comes from Jeff, one of my clients. Jeff writes, “Tom, I’m supposed to be leading some team members to get work done. But instead of focusing on the work, they seem to bicker over stupid little stuff. It makes me crazy. I mean, aren’t these people grown adults? How am I supposed to get work done when they spend their time arguing over nothing?” Well, Jeff, I’m really glad you asked that question because it’s an important one and it’s one that many of us struggle with. In fact, I would suggest to you when you ask the question, “Aren’t these people grown adults?” The answer is, “Actually, no.” No, they’re not grown adults. They’re actually grown children.
[00:03:45] Now, a lot of times, parents think that their children will watch what they do and just start doing what they do. Now many times, that’s true, but many times children don’t know what to do. And when it comes to parenting, we want to give our kids specific and direct instruction about every little thing. Now, how does that translate in to the work place? Well, the fact is that most of the time, people have never been given specific and clear instruction about what it is they need to do to be successful. Common sense is not common practice. Common sense is not common practice. And one of the things that I am passionate about is when it comes to leading people, you have to teach them every little thing.
[00:04:40] Now when I say, “Every little thing,” I mean things like “Here’s how we shake hands: we make eye contact, we give a firm grasp, we pump three times. That’s our handshake. And you might say, “Isn’t that ridiculous? Don’t people know how to do it?” The fact is unless we give them specific and direct instruction, clear instruction about what we want, we are not going to get what we’re after. Now, the other thing we run in to that’s a difficulty is we tend to think about what we think is important and they think about what they think is important. So one of the things we have to do as leaders is make sure that everybody’s on the same page about what’s important.
[00:05:28] Now, I know you’re probably thinking, “Isn’t it obvious what’s important? I mean, how crazy must it be for people not to know what’s important?” But I will tell you that people often are confused about what’s important and it’s our job to make it crystal clear. We need to be specific and direct. So let me give you an example here. So, let’s say for the sake of argument that you’re responsible for managing a reporting tool kit, that your job is to work on creating enhancements to that reporting tool kit, and your team members are the ones who either define the business processes and document those, or they’re the ones who actually write the code that implements the changes in reporting. This happens all the time, that whatever part of the work I do, I think is the most important, and I think that’s what matters the most. So if I’m the business analyst, I think that the business analysis work is critically important. If I’m the developer, I think the development of the code is the most important stuff.
[00:06:38] Here’s the problem: they’re both wrong. They’re both wrong. It’s critically important that you do the business analysis. No one would argue with that. It’s fundamentally important that the coding be done properly. Nobody would argue that. However, you need to lay out the vision for the work. So, if you’re responsible for the reporting tool kit, why does the business need the reporting tool kit? What is the business reason behind the existence of the reporting tool kit? Well, reporting tool kits are to help business leaders make good business decisions. Our job is not to document business processes or improve business processes, or write great code. Our job is to solve business problems and work as a team to deliver great value to the business.
[00:07:33] When I focus on optimizing why the coding is so important, or I focus on optimizing why the business analysis is so important, all of a sudden I miss the big picture. And I just want to encourage you that people don’t see the big picture. They don’t understand it unless you make it clear to them. What seems like common sense to you is not common sense to them. Common sense is not common practice. You’ve got to teach them every little thing. So you need to sit down and lay out the vision with them. Our job is to make enhancements to the reporting tool kit so that our senior leaders can make great business decisions. Anything that doesn’t contribute to that goal, it’s not what we do. It’s not where we need to invest our time.
[00:08:21] When you lay it out that way, now there’s a rule of thumb, or a guideline that people can use to help determine whether the work that they’re doing is on target or off target. And it’s a great way for you to ask the question when you find yourself in a conflict with people fighting over stuff that doesn’t really matter, “How does this contribute to our goal of helping our business leaders make better, well-informed decisions based on actual data?” When you reset it for them, now they’ll stop fighting so much about that petty little stuff and be more engaged on the bigger picture issues.
[00:09:00] So, Jeff, getting back to your question, “Aren’t these people grown adults?” The fact is they’re not. They don’t know what they should be thinking about. They don’t know what they should be focusing on, and they don’t know what they should be fighting for. When you lay out for them the vision and you help them redefine what they should optimize for, to optimize around what matters to the business, you’ll be able to overcome many, many of those little issues. And that’s today’s Coach’s Mailbox.
[00:10:49] Now, before you just think that that person is a hopeless idiot…I mean, statistically speaking, there is a chance that the person you work for is a hopeless idiot. But before you land on that conclusion, let’s talk about something else. I mean, they are your boss, right? If they really were a hopeless idiot, they probably wouldn’t be your boss, right? So they’re doing something that’s working for them. And I just want to ask you to start to think about, when you think that person’s a hopeless idiot, maybe they’re being measured on something different than you think they’re being measured on. Maybe what you’re looking at is not the thing that matters the most to them. For example, if your boss is your boss and doesn’t get it, maybe you need to ask the question, “What does their boss want from them? What’s their boss looking for? How would their boss decide if they were being successful?” That might give you some clues about what it is that your boss is doing that’s working.
[00:12:00] Now, there is another topic that I want to touch on here, and it’s a danger. It’s actually something that we do mentally that can be a big problem for us, and the concept that I want to share with you is the idea of the Bozo bit. And we know that bits are either 1 or 0. They’re either on or they’re off. And if a bit is on, then it’s 100% on. And if it’s off, then it’s 100% off. Sometimes, what we do is we decide that somebody is a Bozo. Here’s what that looks like. You’re in a meeting and they say something that is completely off topic. They refer to the language that you write in as the wrong language. They misunderstand something that you think is foundational to the technical work that you do and you think, “How could they possibly be in this position and think or believe or act like that? That person is a Bozo!”
[00:13:06] When you have set the Bozo bit in the on position, now, all of a sudden, it doesn’t matter what they say. If they say anything, as far as you’re concerned, you have a filter and your filter says, “A stupid person said this.” And when you believe that a stupid person said this, all of a sudden, you don’t hear them anymore. It doesn’t matter. They might come up with something that is insightful, something that is useful, something that is helpful. But you won’t be able to hear it because your filter is going to say, “A stupid person said this.”
[00:13:50] Now, as I said, in some cases it’s true that whoever is talking has no idea what they’re talking about. But let me challenge that because, statistically speaking, it’s a very small percentage of people who are hopeless idiots. It is more likely that they are doing something that works for them, they’re optimizing for something different than what you’re optimizing for. They’re being recognized and rewarded for different things than you’re being recognized or rewarded for and it’s your job to figure out are they a hopeless idiot and you were correct to set the Bozo bit. Or, maybe, just maybe, you’ve made a mistake. Maybe you shouldn’t have set the Bozo bit for this particular person. So if you’re analyzing whether you’ve incorrectly set the Bozo bit to the on position, here’s some things to think about.
[00:14:51] What is it that has led them to success so far in their career? What is it that they are being measured on that’s rewarding them? People do what works. What is working for this person? Why is it that they are successful in the role that they are in? You need to start thinking about that, because when you start to think about that, it’s possible, very possible, that what you think matters actually is not as important to your organization as you formerly thought. And when you start to look at what’s working for this person, now you’ll be able to change what you’re doing to do what’s working for the organization. Now, I’m not suggesting that you stop doing great work, or that you just suck up to people. That’s now what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is sometimes the organization values things that are other than what we want.
[00:15:57] I had a colleague one time who was passionate about doing an excellent job of doing desktop engineering, making sure that the operating system on all the computers worked as perfectly as could be made to work in the imperfect world in which we live. He spent hours and hours and hours working on that. The problem was that the organization wanted the desktop engineering done, but their standard for quality was far, far lower than my colleague’s. He was so frustrated. He was angry about the fact that the organization was just stupid for not understanding how important it was to get the desktop operating system configured properly. And he was mad at his boss, who was an idiot, for not understanding why it was so important.
[00:16:47] Now, the thing is we were not in a technology industry. We were in the hospitality industry and our organization fundamentally did not value precise, elegant engineering of the desktop. The organization was very happy to tolerate imperfection and problems on the desktop because it wasn’t worth it to the organization to fix that. They accepted the fact that it was suboptimal because the cost for engineering it to the level that my colleague wanted to do it was too high. So the organization deoptimized around desktop engineering. It wasn’t as good at desktop engineering as we could have been. Did optimize, prioritize their optimization around cost to deliver these systems. That was a reality we lived in. And my colleague spent a lot of time being angry. And he thought the bosses were pretty stupid. So you want to ask, “What is working for them? What are they being measured on?”
[00:17:50] The next thing I want to encourage you to do is recognize that they may be good at something that you’re not good at. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn from him. Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn from him.” So even if this person seems to be less than competent, even if they seem to be less than enjoyable to be around, I want you to think about in what way are they good at something? What is something you can praise in them? Now, I know from my work with people that sometimes you find a co-worker and you think, “Tom, really, seriously, man. There is no way. There is nothing, absolutely nothing that I could say that’d be positive about that.”
[00:18:53] Well, John Rockefeller, John D. Rockefeller was the richest man in the world for a long time. He had tremendous success. He had a business partner who was overseeing a venture and that venture lost some money. In fact, it lost a lot of money. This business partner of John Rockefeller’s managed to lose a million dollars of John Rockefeller’s money. And that was when a million dollars was really worth something. I found an online calculator and did an inflation adjustment on that money. It was about $70 million of money that was lost. Seventy million dollars. Now, you can imagine, if you had a business partner who lost $70 million, that let’s just say it would be challenging to find anything positive to say about somebody who made that kind of mistake.
[00:19:47] Now, I don’t know how long John D. Rockefeller spent thinking about what he was going to say, but I’m going to share with you what he did say. When he spoke with his business partner, he said, “Well, at least you saved 60% of our investment. That’s splendid. We don’t always do as well as that upstairs. At least you saved 60% of our investment. We don’t always do as well as that upstairs.” Look at what he did. He found something, ever so small, that he could praise about the fact that the guy hadn’t lost even more money. And then in a self-deprecating way, he said, “Look, we screw up some times, too.”
[00:20:28] That is powerful. Now, it’s powerful for a couple of reasons. One reason it’s powerful is that it lays out for people that their mistake is fixable. It also is something that you could say that they did well. And when you do that, when you find that thing that they do well, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way. In that, I learn from him,” when you do that, it changes the way they think about you, because you’re all of a sudden valuing the things that they value, recognizing their contribution, appreciating the things they do and the things that they believe matter, and it’s going to change their way that they interact with you. It’s going to change the way that they think about you, the way they communicate with you. It’s very powerful. Not only that, but when you start to find those things that really you can appreciate about the other person, it changes the way that you think about them.
[00:21:32] You see, when you’ve got the Bozo bit in the on position, it doesn’t matter what they say. It doesn’t matter what they do because they are a Bozo. And when you are able to begin to flip that bit off, and then really intentionally think about what it is that they’re saying, and see whether it is valuable or not valuable, it changes you, and it changes them. It’s very powerful. Now, one of the resources I’m going to be sharing as a part of this episode is what I call the Appreciation Starter Script. Sometimes, we just don’t have the words to say to recognize people. So for example, some things you might be able to look for are things like, “You are really good at being customer-focused. Sometimes we get caught in the details and we don’t see that.” Another is, “You do a great job of defining what the business problem is.” A third one might be, “You’re really good at understanding how the political winds blow around here.”
[00:22:45] I heard a quote from Ghandi. He said, “A man who says he is not interested in politics is like a drowning man who says he has no interest in water.” Politics happen all around us, and we would be wise to understand those politics. Another one might be, “You’re really good at getting us all on the same page, making sure that we’ve communicated clearly where we’re going and what needs to happen.” Now, in the Appreciation Starter Script that I’m going to include on the Resources page with the podcast, that’s just a few of the ones that are in the list. There are a whole bunch of them and they’re just different things you can look for and some ways that you might say it. Now, don’t necessarily copy word-for-word what I would say, but think through how you would say it. Take what I’m putting out there and…you can use it word-for-word, but it’s more authentic if you put it in your words. I’m just giving you some examples of things to look for and things you can say.
[00:23:48] So I just want to wrap up by saying it’s possible they’re a hopeless idiot. But something’s working for them and you should look for things you can appreciate about the things that they’re doing, because that will help you in your relationship with them, and it’s going to help you work with them more effectively. And that’s today’s Mentoring Segment.
Tom: [00:24:34] On today’s episode, I talked about how people are not grown adults. You’ve got to teach them every little thing. Common sense is not common practice. And also, people do what works, period. People just do what works. So whatever they are doing that’s working for them, they’re going to continue to do. So for today’s hack, I want you to think about what’s working. What are they measured on? What are they optimizing for? If you can figure out what they’re optimizing for, then you can frame up your requests, frame up your interactions around things in a way that matches what matters to them, in a way that matches what they’re being measured on. When you can talk about the things that they care about, you’re going to have their attention. And that’s today’s Episode Hack.
[00:25:29] Now, as I’m wrapping up today, I want to say, “Thank you.” I want to thank you for bringing me with you, because I know that when you’re listening to a podcast, you might be driving in your car or going for a run, walking the dog or any other of a thousand activities that you want to be involved in. And I just want to say, “Thank you.” I appreciate you for giving me some of your time. Now, go figure out how to deal with some of those difficult people, would you?
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[00:26:43] This is Tom Cooper. Thanks for listening. Be sure to join me next time for another episode of Becoming a Geek Leader. Join me in my mission of discovering better ways to lead others at work and at home.