In last night’s GOP presidential debate, Donald Trump stood by a number of proposals that–as Jeb Bush rushed to point out–test the bounds of reason: He’d deport every last illegal immigrant. He’d build an impregnable wall along the Rio Grande. He’d shut down the Internet for ISIS (somehow).
Trump can’t be reasoned out of his convictions, no matter how wrongheaded they may be. To some, that’s likely part of his appeal.
Much of what Trump has said classifies as hate speech and would get most employees fired. So while you may not work with someone who spouts views as extreme as his, most of us have had to deal with illogical people at the workplace, whether an employee, a coworker, or a boss. Some of us have had the misfortune of experiencing all three.
Handling each of them requires a slightly different strategy, but the key is not to get sucked in, become angry, or lose focus. Managing those personalities starts with managing our emotions, disengaging from the situation if we need to and coming back later. We also need a plan, with an end goal, to remind us of what we need to accomplish, no matter what sort of havoc your office Trump is trying to wreak. Here’s how to do all that.
Stick to the data. Only talk about what the person said or did. Don’t make any judgements about why they did or said what they did. Leave that part for the unreasonable employee to answer. Ask open-ended questions and listen to their answers, and request clarification if you don’t understand.
Then turn the focus to the results of their words and actions on others, and ask if they’re aware of them. If there is something that you can agree upon, mention it. Ask directly for the changes that you’d like to see from the employee and whether there’s any way you can help.
This might not be easy (to say the least), but if you get confrontational, you’ll be delivering your irrational employee exactly the response they’re trying to elicit.
If the difficult person you’re struggling to cope with is a colleague, you may not be the only one who’s frustrated by them. Try and find out if others are feeling the same way as you are about this person. Sometimes it’s only you. Perhaps that coworker just touches a nerve that’s unique to you. But even if others share your aggravation, try not to complain about that person together. It usually only makes things worse.
Instead, ask to speak to your unreasonable colleague in private. Describe how you experience their behavior using “I” statements. For instance, “When you said what you did, I felt frustrated.” Here, too, it’s important to see if there’s some common ground you can use in order to move the conversation forward.
Despite all your efforts, your coworker may stick to their ways. Since you’re on similar footing as colleagues in the organization, you have to bear in mind that there’s little you can do yourself to control them. Record any incidents that occur, minimize your contact with them, and speak to your boss about what you’re experiencing.
If things get really toxic, you might want to consider whether their behavior warrants you moving on–again, it’s better to distance yourself than get combative.
Working for an unreasonable boss can be the most difficult of all. In this case, the best tactic is to work as independently as you possibly can. Avoid unnecessary interactions, and try to put as many people between the two of you as possible during the times you do need to communicate.
Avoiding your own boss may sound impractical but it can become an excuse to collaborate. Look for reasons to bring others into meetings and involve as many people at as many levels as you can. Look for support among your coworkers–not to gossip or commiserate but to create a buffer and help you share ideas (and empathy) among the more rational minded.
Document the most outrageous incidents, including the time and date they occurred. If your boss makes an irrational request or threat or lashes out by email, make sure you save it. Building a record of your boss’s erratic behavior can help lay a foundation for change if things get so bad that you need to take it up with the organization. In the meantime, consider what’s best for you.
What are the costs of staying in the situation? What might your exit plan look like and what would the timeline be? Even if you don’t act on it, sketching out your own strategy can give you a much-needed sense of empowerment amid the mayhem.