A Publication of WTVP

The art of managing ‘prickly people’

by Amy Burkett |

How do you go from wanting to punch someone to loving them at work? The secret is understanding the four types of prickly people and learning the strategies of how to work with them.

I’m sure you noticed I called them “prickly people” and not difficult people. Nobody wants to work with difficult people. We all know someone in our lives we’d describe as difficult but as a leader we need to be able to activate everyone, or at least almost everyone, and the first strategy is intentionally choosing how we view people.

Over 30 years of leadership I’ve discovered that prickly people often make powerful assets. Hang in there with me and I’ll show you why.

The first type of prickly person is someone who has had something personal go wrong in their lives. Maybe they’re dealing with a divorce, illness, strained relationship, death of a family member, their car died, or their plumbing burst. You get the picture. They used to be great team members, but something is different.

The strategy I’ve found that works best in this situation is to reach out to them and ask if there’s anything you can do to help. Tell them you’ve noticed they seem to be struggling and you want to help. Maybe their babysitter is sick and you can let them work from home for a week or shift their schedule to start a little later.

This is what I call the accommodation strategy. When you show the person that you care about them personally and are willing to adjust work for a limited time to help them through their challenge, they’ll often move heaven and Earth to deliver results to you and the company afterwards.

The second type of prickly person is the insecure person. He or she is the first to tell you whatever you’re asking isn’t possible. How about we try this new strategy with our social media?
“No, that can’t be done.”

The best way to handle this kind of person is to tell them it’s OK if they don’t know how, and you’ll help them learn. You can make an introduction to someone at a different company who does what they do and is willing to share their knowledge, or you can send them to an online workshop. Tell them you have no doubt they can learn how to do this. You’re lending them your belief in them until they can develop their own self-confidence.

The third type of prickly person can be extra hard to navigate but I promise you, this type of person can add the most value. That’s the passionate person.

See if this sounds familiar: You’re trying to implement a new strategy and this person “passionately” tells you why it shouldn’t be done. What makes them different from the insecure person is they immediately have an idea of how to do it better. They can almost come across as belligerent or overbearing. They have a viewpoint they want to share that you’ve never considered. They aren’t against you. Their motives are to help you and the team by expressing an alternative viewpoint.

When you compromise with that prickly person you can achieve the most extraordinary outcomes. This was my production manager, who I worked with at three different television stations. He was extraordinarily talented in all technical aspects of video production, an area that was not my greatest strength. Was it frustrating working with him some days? Absolutely! But he made me and our team better and together we won tons of awards for our content.

As a leader, I had to be secure enough to listen, understand and consider his suggestions, then determine when I needed to compromise and when I needed to go with my gut and stick to my original plan, while communicating to him how much I appreciated his perspective.

The fourth type of prickly person is the bad egg.  It’s critical to realize this is a much smaller percentage of people than the other three. Be careful to explore the other three styles first before determining that someone is a bad egg. The way you tell is that bad eggs live in a constant state of negativity without presenting other ideas. Often the person will be more focused on himself or herself than on the team.

The best strategy to use when you find a bad egg is to free them to find their passion elsewhere. That means termination. You shouldn’t allow them to stay in your organization, undermining your authority. It’s a difficult decision to make sometimes, but often the person will be happier somewhere else, and so will you.

I hope these strategies equip you to better handle the prickly people in your life.

Amy Burkett

Amy Burkett

is the host of WTVP’s Leadership Series, a multi-regional Emmy Award-winning journalist, author of The 7D’s to Your Destiny and a certified John Maxwell trainer, speaker and coach.