Working with toxic, difficult people

Ask most people that know me and they will probably tell you that I am usually totally calm and they have never seen me lose my temper in a crisis. So it takes a very special type of individual to really get me worked up! I have worked with some difficult people in my 16 years career across Asia and Australia, – colleagues, clients and talents, as I am sure you have.

For clients and talents, its part of business and I take it as that, up to a certain extent. When I hire new employees, where I have more control, there are no 100% guarantee they will not turn out to be our worst nightmares that will give us ulcers and sleepless nights.

Here are some of personal encounters:

Toxic person #1

We hired X to be the manager of a small team. X is impressive, speaks well, intelligent, talented. In the first 9 to 12 months, it worked like a dream, business was brisk and profitable, everything seems to be going exceptionally smoothly. As I was managing X remotely, I didnt have full access to what goes on intimately on a day to day basis. Soon after cracks started appearing, staff turnover was ridiculously high, we had 100% turnover after 12 months. Staff members started having “confidential” chats with me. Digging deeper into the issues, I discovered that every Monday, X had been holding meetings that last from 10am to 4pm, with no break for lunch where essentially each staff member was told off and humiliated in front of their peers to “drive performance”. It got so bad that some staff members had complained of feeling physically sick on Sunday evenings in anticipation of the public floggings on Mondays. The “constructive” feedback to staff sometimes were of a personal nature such as not so subtly suggesting cosmetic surgery to fix unflattering facial and body features….(ouch!). Following the revelation, X was removed from people management and transferred to another office to a client facing role and kept away as far as possible from leading people.

Toxic person #2

I got an email from a client, Y. First time I have dealt with this person. Y’s company needed to search for a senior level position and Y had emailed a job description to me to engage Firebrand to do the search. After repeated email and phone messages asking for a meeting with no reply, I finally manage to get Y on the phone. The call didnt start off well, I asked questions and got unhelpful and cold one word answers. My request for a meeting to get more details were repeated rebuffed. Y kept saying “I dont know what else you need to know, what are you asking for?” (I thought it was simple, a meeting to clarify things). Then Y lost the plot and with a raised voice said “Look, its late (actually I called at 5pm normal business hours) and I am tired….” and then kept repeating this well worn line a few times “I dont know what else you need to know, what are you asking for?”. I deplore it when the “client” thinks they can talk down to a “vendor” just because they have a carrot of a piece of business. That’s when I thanked Y and told Y that I wish to withdraw my interest (even though it meant we lost out on that piece of carrot) and hung up. I figured if Y is like that before we start a business relationship, it would just be an excruciating painful exercise and a waste of time to work with Y in the long term.

I am sure you have come across people who are unpredictable like a home made bomb waiting to go BOOM!, Just dont know where you stand with them at anytime, making people around them walk on egg shells. Will he or she be happy, moody, nasty today? All depending on which direction the wind is blowing.

Life is just too short. I resolve to only surround myself with motivated, happy, positive people with “can do” attitude and a partnership mindset that lifts people around them rather than tear down.

So, tell me about your experiences with toxic, difficult people and how you have dealt with them?

Photo courtesy of Google

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