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Dealing with Difficult People - Part 4

Updated on March 13, 2013

I don't complain, I explain!

If I hear, "In a while, crocodile," one more time, I'll come after you.
If I hear, "In a while, crocodile," one more time, I'll come after you.

Strategies and Language to Use for Dealing with Difficult People - the Complaining Crocodile and Compromising Chameleon

This is the fourth and final (for the time being) article on Dealing with Difficult People

The Complaining Crocodile

How do you know when you are dealing with a Complaining (Whining) Crocodile? The first clue is the actual sound of their speech. Their words have a whiny, sing-song quality. Complaining Crocodiles find fault with everyone and everything. They firmly believe that misery loves company, so they readily bring their problems and complaints to you.

What kind of language do they use? Here's an example I heard recently from an employee who shall be nameless: "I cut my finger this morning putting paper in the copier, and you know how paper cuts are always the worst; they take forever to heal (yada, yada). Did I tell you what happened to my car when I was driving out of the parking lot yesterday? You won't believe what a stupid driver did (yada, yada). It must be the weather, my sinuses keep draining, my nose is clogged and my eyes never stop tearng (yada, yada)."

What is their motivation for this type of behavior? They generally feel powerless to manage their fate and a have a very strong sense of the way things should be and the way other people ought to behave. They continually complain so they, personally, can feel more perfect in an imperfect world. "It's not my responsibility. I've told you the way it should be. I've done all I can. Now it's up to you."

You know who the Complaining Crocodile reminds me of? Do you remember the comic strip, "Lil Abner," drawn by Al Capp that appeared in newspaper comic pages some years ago? There was a character named Joe Btftsplk (his name had no vowels) and a cloud was always hovering above Joe's head. The sun was shining everywhere else in Dogpatch, Lil Abner's home, but it was always raining just on Joe.

How should you deal with this difficult person? Strategies and language to use:

• Listen attentively with eye contact and head nods even when you feel impatient or defensive.

• Acknowledge what they are saying by paraphrasing. Put the complaint into your own words and indicate what you think they feel. "I guess what I hear you saying . . . and you are probably feeling pretty frustrated right now."

• Interrupt if necessary but jump in gracefully.

• Complaining Crocodiles often use the words, "always" and "never." So try to pin down their complaints to specific times, specific places, specific facts.

• When you acknowledge their complaints take care not to agree. Your agreement will confirm their belief that it's your fault and they are blameless.

• Avoid the use of ADR - Accusation, Defense, Re-accusation. They accuse. You become defensive, and re-accuse them.

• State the facts without apology. "Here is your report and here are my questions." Refrain from editorial comment like: "See? See?"

• Try to solve the problem by asking questions. "When does it occur? Who are the people involved?

• Assign tasks: "Keep track of when . . . " or "Jot down the times that . . . "

• Get it in writing. Ask the Complainer to put complaints in writing and set a time by which you expect a response.

• As a last resort, ask, "How would you like this discussion to end?" or "Where would you like us to be when we're through?"


I couldn't decide whether to be green or yellow so I compromised.
I couldn't decide whether to be green or yellow so I compromised.

The Compromising Chameleon

You will know you are dealing with a compromising chameleon when many of your questions are answered with a "Probably, Maybe, Perhaps, Possibly, Could be, I'm not sure, I suppose we could ..." and similar phrases. This type of indecisive individual finds it difficult to make a commitment or finalize a project.

You will often hear language like this from the compromiser: "I'm really still thinking about it . . . I guess I'll decide . . . but then maybe we ought to consider . . . I really need to think about it some more . . . Maybe we could . . . I suppose we should . . . “"

The behavior you will encounter most often is that of an indecisive procrastinator who stalls off any major decision-making. In fact, they avoid it entirely whenever possible. Their actions are not meant to be mean nor cruel, but they constantly take no action. They put off, postpone and procrastinate endlessly in the hope that a better choice will present itself. Or, and this is what they most desire, that the problem will simply go away.

What is their motivation for this type of behavior? They are often altruists who do not want to hurt other people. They will hint and hedge, sit on the fence, and equivocate as a compromise between being honest and not hurting anyone.

How should you deal with this difficult person? Strategies and language to use:

• Make it easy for them to talk to you. Say something like, "Could we talk about . . . ?" or "I would really like to hear your comments, your opinion on . . ." Be pleasant and patient while you await their response.

• Listen for cues and clues in their evasive language. They will use words like "generally, should, all in all, as a rule."

• Sometimes you can expedite your conversation with a compromiser by asking, "What is the conflict?” or "What do you see as the major problem?"

• You will find that you often have to literally help them to problem solve. It helps to ask them, "Would you describe the problem in detail in your own words?"

• If you learn that you are the cause or source of their indecision, acknowledge that fact and emphasize your desire to help.

• State the facts without being defensive. Propose a plan and say, "I need your help."

• If you are not the cause, give the compromiser a list of alternative solutions to a specific problem and ask him or her to rank them in order of priority.

• Emphasize the quality of your alternatives as well as the possible results.

• After a decision is made, give them your support.

It isn't easy to deal with a compromising individual and you seldom can alter their behavior, but you can change your attitude about them and listen to them in a different, more positive way.

Procrastination is a fault. It causes me nothing but sorrow. I know that I should stop it now. In fact I will for sure - tomorrow!

When dealing with difficult people, target one specific behavior to influence at a time. You can persistently influence behavior over a period of time but not all at once. And that’s the operative word in dealing with difficult people – persistence. Stay positive and you can change your behavior when dealing with them. Then they have to learn new behaviors to deal with you.

I’ve now discussed in four separate Hubs the Bellowing Bull, Sly, Sneaky Snake, Grenade Gorilla, Genuine Know-It-Owl, Bogus Know-It-Owl, Calamity Chicken Little, Pleasant Puppy, Uncommunicative Clam, Complaining Crocodile and Compromising Chameleon. See links below.

If you know of any other difficult types of people I've omitted, please comment and share your experience.

Copyright BJ Rakow 2010, 2011. All rights reserved Author, Much of What You Know about Job Search Just Ain't So

Readers of my book say it provided the information they needed to write a dynamic resume and cover letter, network effectively, interview professionally, and negotiate assertively. Includes a chapter for older workers.


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