People First! Amy Cooper Hakim, "Working with Difficult People"

Morag and Amy Cooper Hakim discuss her book, "Working with Difficult People!"

Welcome to SkyeTeam's People First! In this series, we explore the people side of successful business and careers. We all have a story to share, a leadership journey that we are experiencing.

We'll be interviewing authors, business leaders, thought leaders, and people like you to uncover the latest ideas, resources, and tools to help you become more effective at work - and in life. As it turns out, the secret is cultivating winning relationships. Business is personal, and relationships matter!

So, sit back, and grab a coffee as Morag and Amy Cooper Hakim discuss her book, "Working with Difficult People!"

Chapter Layout:
0:00 - Open
1:09 - Origin Story
3:17 - Pivot Point
5:11 - Family Connection
8:32 - Difficult People
11:10 - Start the Conversation
14:45 - 360 View
16:15 - First Steps
19:27 - You Realize It's YOU!
24:40 - Final Thoughts & Wrap

LinkedIn Profile:

- [Intro] Welcome to Skye teams People First with Morag Barrett

- Amy Cooper Hakim is an industrial organizational psychology practitioner and a workplace expert. She's a speaker, an author and executive consultant and founder of the Cooper Strategic Group. She helps employers and employees to get along better and coaches, leaders and employees to improve productivity, morale, satisfaction and overall work-life balance. Her book "Working With Difficult People: How to Handle the 10 Types of Problem People Without Losing Your Mind". I'm looking forward to our conversation about that provides clear strategies to effectively handle the 10 types of difficult bosses, colleagues and subordinates. So Amy, welcome to People First.

- Thank you for having me.

- Well as I said, I'm really looking forward to the conversation about your book and the research and the work that you've been doing. But I actually want to go back to the beginning and start with your origin story. So when you were a little girl at elementary school and the teacher said "Amy what do you want to be when you grow up"? What did you answer then? Or what did you think you would be doing?

- I wanted to be a singer.

- A singer, what sort of singer, like a pop singer or an opera singer?

- I've always loved to sing. Story goes that I've been singing before I even used to talk I would sing based on the music in the grocery store. And I just have always loved to sing and to harmonized and such. So that's what I wanted to be. I loved pop singing, but I actually trained up radically.

- So do you still sing now other than in the shower?

- I do, I do. And I knew it was love when I met my husband and we after our first date took a little stroll and started singing together. And my kids actually also sing. So once a week I require our family to sit and sing and harmonize to one song. Friday night dinner, we inevitably have one song where we sing together. Even my 16 year old boy who likes the beatbox as compared to have to sing we all sing one song that is just the way that I continue and keep that going a bit.

- Oh my God so if you picked out a song for this week or is it a spontaneous whatever grabs you?

- Well, generally we have our repertoire, but I absolutely we love it. So yes, that is really what I wanted to be. And if I could snap my fingers and be a singer right now I would still do so I love it. Love it though.

- That is one of the best answers I've heard because now I've got a picture of you in your Disney lifestyle, the bird watching you and your husband and they're serenading each other. It really does happen. You are the proof. All right, so you still sing and harmonize for the family but you're an industrial organizational psychologist and workplace expert, which is a little bit of a mouthful. So help me understand the pivot point then that took you from the harmonies to solving for the disharmonies at work. Look at that segue.

- I like that. Well, as much as I love to sing and truly I enjoy it and I get asked to sing still, so I do. I know I could do it. I knew I couldn't make it as a profession. And some advice that my family gave to me really early on, they said if that's your hobby and you love it great at the time I wanted it to be on star search. That was my thing. I never even tried out but they said pursue it as a hobby, but make sure that you have an education that you can fall back on if that doesn't work. And so I never pursued it beyond the hobby level. And so I thought, well, what could I do that would be interesting? And my grandmother, who was a mentor of mine and actually the co-author of the book she was going through some newspaper clippings. And I was talking to her about either becoming a clinical psychologist or employer. And she said, Oh, actually, Amy I think the field of industrial organizational psychology is for you and gave a physical newspaper clipping. And it dealt with time management goal setting hopefully the lines of communication, all of the things that I like to do in general I was one as a young kid I always would organize a closet or help someone create a schedule to get their work done well. And so opening those lines of communication and helping to improve overall productivity, just really fit with who I am and what I do just generally. And I found that that was great advice and it was a great mix of volunteers.

- Well, thanks to granny. And then you mentioned there that your co-author is your grandmother, Muriel Solomon. And in fact, the story behind the book is a little different to everybody's else, 'cause this is the second edition of working with difficult people. So what was the inspiration behind your grandmother writing the first edition and how did you get to get involved other than the familiar relationship and updating the content for the 21st century?

- Sure, so my grandmother was a very special woman a mentor of mine. She passed away many years ago but I actually remember helping her work on the index for the first edition of this book. She'd tell me about the way that she helped to open these lines of communication in the workplace. She was not an industrial psychologist but she was a management consultant. And someone ahead of her time she managed a branch in a bank when she was young, she graduated high school at 16, She did things that if you think of women back in those ages, they didn't have some of those types of responsibilities. And she went into businesses and helped to improve communication. People would come to her from near and far, friends, relatives, loved ones, "Can you help me solve this problem?". So she was just that type of person. And so she fell into her own brand and started creating these management communication and business relationship type pop psych book. And when I found out that this specific book was still selling I was really excited. So I mean, she passed away 17 years ago now. I mean, a long while ago. And this book though was chock full of very important information about dealing with different types of difficult people. But interestingly, because of when it was written there was no information on narcissism or passive aggressiveness, or how do I deal with my boss is looking at his smartphone instead of me when I'm trying to get his attention. None of that wasn't there. And so I approached the book publisher, I did not know that this was not the normal way to go without I went to the I approached your book publisher. And I said, "Hi, my grandmother was a mentor of mine. She wrote the first edition and I love this book, but it's really outdated may I please update it?" and they said "yes". And I was very, very grateful. It was such a special project because I got a chance to add to my grandmother's legacy. And I started liking it back to music, do you know the song Unforgettable with Nat Cole and that his grandma daughter or granddaughter saying after the fact, and it was just such a beautiful moment. So that's what this experience was for me. I was given a paper copy of this book because it was so old. They didn't have an electronic version and I updated it by hand and then inserted paragraphs by word documents. And we pieced together this updated version. And it was just such a special project in a beautiful way for me to add to my grandmother's legacy. And then recently, I just began speaking on the topic much more so, and using my background in industrial organizational psychology to support some of these changes and suggestions and enhancements to her work.

- So I love that. I mean, what a wonderful legacy in a way to honor your grandmother and the title, again "Working with Difficult People: Handling the 10 Types of Problem People Without Losing Your Mind". And I'm sure all of us, at some point or another have either lost their mind at work about a colleague or at least gone home at the end of the day and gone you won't believe what so-and-so just said it did. So this is really an invaluable resource but let's start with the basics. What do you mean or how do you define a difficult person?

- Well, interestingly difficult people can be those who just make us angry and make us cower or move away from them because we can't stand their presence. It could be caustic or mean, but those are not always the difficult people that I deal with as a consultant. A lot of times when I'm called into an office to help with a difficult person it's someone who isn't perhaps doing his or her job or someone who is interrupting the workday by chatting or showing a picture of their dog latest trick on Facebook compared to getting their job done. So difficult people can go that whole gamut of someone who's physically abusive, emotionally abusive, nasty to be around. But again, we don't see that as often. It's just someone who might be interrupting us or making it so that we can't get our work done or our day as productive as possible. So we can go home and enjoy the people and the things we really want to enjoy.

- So what do you find of the 10 different types that you address in the book? What are sort of the most common ones that you are asked to help individuals and teams overcome?

- So in general, when it comes to a boss I often hear that bosses are narcissistic. That word is used a lot. It's actually very uncommon for someone to truly fall into that category. But I do oftentimes have people call me and say, "My boss is so difficult to deal with with like an emotional hot potato instead of taking any responsibility for him or herself it just gets thrown to me." "I'm in the hot seat." "I can't get out." So I hear a lot of that with regard to mid-level or lower level employees, or subordinates. A lot of times its people who are not productive, people who don't get their work done, don't take the job seriously and trying to get them to stay focused and onboard so that they're not going to be a problem for the organization, but rather help the organization to promote and accomplish its goals.

- It's interesting because there seems to be a connection and a mirror here that my misunderstood genius is somebody else's difficult person.

- Aah

- So I mean, I don't know that anybody gets up in the morning and thinks, "I want to be seen as belligerent" or "I want to be seen as intimidating" but that's the impact that we have. So how do you even start the conversation around addressing difficult people?

- Well, so it's really funny because a lot of times I get called by the higher level individuals within an organization, say the CEO or some executive leader. And that individual will say, "I don't know what's going on in my company. my top level people are not performing, the best the stars are leaving, they're taking up their jobs. I can't get people to do what they're supposed to do, come help.". And so I go into the organization and oftentimes they have the same story at the end of the day, we have to get there. And so the leader may say, "Oh someone who did this. And let me tell you all about my star players.". And we'll go through a whole visionary and idea and interview. And then only to find out, of course its the leader is the one who's truly difficult and that people are leaving because they don't want to work with that individual. So we see that a lot. That's the only way to work through that process is for me to speak to all of the individuals who work for that person and say, "Do you feel valued?" "Do you get to do at work what you feel you can most successfully do?" "Do you feel like you are contributing and helping yourself to grow personally, professionally?" "At the end of the day do you come home and say, "Gosh, I had a great day at work. I really enjoyed what I did."? "Do you feel empowered and valued?" And so we go through all of that. And then ultimately through my interviewing I'll find out that the boss is sculpting ideas oftentimes saying, my idea take it or leave, and this is it. This is there's one way I know, I'm the expert. And so I have to bring that back to the leader and talk to the leader and coach the leader to help him or her to see. And then I also play a role in this relationship. And while obviously someone is at the top of an organization because he or she earned it likely the better leaders are those who are able to surround themselves with people who can compliment their own particular skillsets. So when we're able to say, "Here are my strengths and instead, I don't want to be focused on worrying about micromanaging these individuals.". Instead, I want to say, "I empower you to do this, do that.", so that I can ultimately put my feet up on the desk and think about the vision of the organization. I actually physically, and it's hard to do with the camera but I will move back and put my feet up so that the executive can say, this is where you need to be. This is where I want. I want you to call me up and say I no longer need your services because my feet are up on the desk and my organization is running smoothly. And the only way to get there is for everyone to accept their own particular world and recognize that there is power in letting others work too, others have ideas too. And that can be very, very challenging for many people who are in a boss type position.

- It's interesting 'cause it does start with holding the mirror up. And it's interesting how much trust and confidence people will show in us as complete strangers coming in as a consultant when we're doing that diagnostic. And often for leaders, when we hold the mirror up and say, "Well, is this the intent?", they're shocked and appalled because nobody has given them the feedback till now that that's how their style is landing. And they haven't made the connection between the self fulfilling prophecy of on being directive or why is nobody speaking up or because they're waiting for you to direct them. And so you you're part of the problem. So I love that. In the book, I noticed that you structure the recommendations that you have depending on whether your difficult person is a boss above you, or whether it's a colleague, et cetera. So help me understand that sort of 360 degree view, how is it different?

- So if we take someone like a bully if that person has bullyish tendencies then likely that person was a bully on the school yard likely also a bully as a subordinate a bully as a colleague and a bully as a boss. But the way that we interact with that individual, we have to recognize our particular role in that relationship, because they're going to ask for and expect different things from individuals based on their relationship to us. So I could speak to a bullyish colleague in one way but I wouldn't be able to speak to a bullyish boss in the same way without potentially having certain repercussions. And of course its efforts and works for me. Then I can lay down the law a little bit more so and so recognizing that can help us to say what we need to say so that we are able to get what we want need from those individuals and those respective relationships. So it's important to see that the way despite that they may have similar tendencies and they likely do, if it's personality based and growing up to, we still have to say, okay what will does that person have with me? How then do I need to interact with that person so that I'm respected? Do I get what I want meet? And he, or she gets what they want and need from me.

- So let's look at that a little deeper on a two part question coming up. So for people listening to this who may recognize that they're working with a difficult person they may not read the book yet to diagnose what type of difficult this they just know that this person's difficult. What advice do you have for the first steps in approaching this conversation with your colleague wherever they sit to start to affect change? So that's part one. Let's do that one first and then I'll give you part two.

- Well, so we have to do our best to take emotion out of the situation. So what is it that I want pragmatically from this person? If I could take the emotion and strip it away what is it that I need or what do I want to ultimately get? Do I ultimately hope to work hand in hand with this colleague? Do I ultimately hope to be respected and heard by this colleague? Do I need this colleague to stop showing me the pictures of her grandchildren or dogs on Facebook because I have to get my work done or is this person interrupting me, embarrassing me? So we have to be very clear and it's hard because it's hard to separate emotion from the end goal that we're looking for. When we think about personal relationship, the smiles that come to our faces when we think of our loved ones or me singing with my husband, right on our walk that is emotionally made in, that cannot be workplace. When we think of the workplace as much as we should be empathetic as much as we should be kind and personable we have to separate the emotional component. And that's the most difficult thing I asked of the people who I helped take emotion out of the equation. And if you do that, you can be very practical. Here's what I want. Here's what I need. Here's what this person wants. Here's what this person needs. Here's where our communication is broken down and here's what we need to do to move forward. So in order for me to be most productive, I need this. If this is related to work, I can help you. If not, I've got to get back, be very clear, very direct that communication can help. We have to first realize what is it that we need and where is the disconnect? So if we can step back and figure that out, that's very, very, very useful. And that's before going into having the dialogue. So if I get so frustrated, I hear it a lot, people are busy working. They want to get their job done so that they can leave. They can turn off their system. They can not have a team over their head. Maybe they're working with somebody who doesn't take things as seriously or who is all about false pretenses or pretend to know something and says, oh yeah, sure I'll handle it. And then all of a sudden, it's on my desk and I've got to take care of it. Well, so we've got to be able to reign that in, what do I need? I need to get my work done. How do I get that done? I need to set boundary, who and the boundaries with? And we have to break it down like that. And when we do so logically then we can go in and have a discussion. We have to take that first step.

- So start with yourself. What are your guidelines and boundaries so that you can articulate that and the requests that you have of your colleague. All right, so the part two of that question is I'm listening to this conversation and I've just realized that my attention to detail, maybe being misinterpreted as nitpicker, that may be, I am that difficult person. So what advice do you have there for somebody who's just gone, "Oh, no!", how do they move forward to change that reputation that they've created?

- Well, first off self-awareness is huge. And my favorite types of clients are those who come to me and they say, "I realize I'm a difficult person help me!", because that's really the first step. If we think that too, what I often see in going into organizations that executives only realized it after the fact, after they say, "Oh gosh I'm a part of it.". So having that self-awareness awareness is something where you can really be proud to say, "Hey, I'm taking the right steps to make these changes.". And being aware is really one of the most critical components. I like to think of these types of issues as executive sensitivities. So if we're sensitive to something we are focused a little bit more so and we then either overdo it or under do it. So if I'm concerned that I'm a nitpicker if I'm aware, and I also have to be aware that because of that, I might see very very much a micromanager. I might say, even though it's a colleague who would take offense at me being a micromanager, I might say give me exactly exactly what you need to do. Wait, how are you doing this? Why are you doing this? I don't agree with it. And really cause a tense environment that might be if I'm overdoing my general tendency to be more peckish. But if I under do it, I might be so aware of that. And so afraid that I will upset or offend my colleague that I become very laissez faire. "Yeah, sure let me do that." Knowing full well that the project will tank, knowing full well that it will not work out. And maybe I have some passive aggressive tendency where I'm doing that so then the person will say, "Oh, no. Next time you've got to take the lead.". So are we play games with ourselves? We have to be aware and alert. If we know that we have a particular tendency and we may then over or under compensate for it then we need to express that to the individual. "Hey Sally, I have a tendency to nitpick sometimes. So if you find them doing that, please know, that I don't- It's not any intention that I have to undermine or to make you feel uncomfortable, just call me on it. I want us to make sure that we have an open and a clear relationship.". And by doing that, by the way, Sally might then say, "Oh hey Amy, I actually, I find that I meant this.". Or I'm glad you said something because I really felt uncomfortable and I didn't want to bring it up to you. And so opening the lines of communication I like to think of an old fashioned TV set with the antenna that are like that and all the noise which is static on the TV screen. And you have to adjust the antennas just so so that the picture comes out clear. That's what this noise is the noise of the communication breakdown. And when we open the lines of communication when we adjust our antenna, then all of a sudden we have that clear and frank communication. And by the way, when we get back to the emotional aspect that people we love, the people who appreciate and actually embrace our idiosyncrasies embrace our negative tendencies and think of, "Oh that just Amy, right? That's just the way she is part of her charm.". Well, a boss doesn't think that, a colleague doesn't think that, a subordinate doesn't think that because they look at it, that this person is hindering me from getting my job done or from doing well at work. And so we have to make sure that we are very clear and when we can take the emotion out, this is who I am. This is how I'm wired, but I want to work with you and what can we do to accomplish our goals together?

- So one conversation at a time and don't bottle it up because that might result in the tit for tat response. It just exacerbates the situation.

- Oh gosh, yes and take a deep breath. If you find that you're quick to jump and quick to judge yourself or others before reacting, stop, breathe, count to 10. You don't always have quickly respond to an email. You don't always have to answer a phone call, if you're in the middle of something, you don't always have to respond to a text message. We have to set boundaries. And sometimes if we realize that our response comes off in a way that is misunderstood, or it's not perceived as we intent, then taking a minute to walk away from our system and come back, reread our email, reread our texts before pressing send can also help to diffuse some potentially negative and uncomfortable situations.

- Amy, this has been a powerful conversation. Thank you so much for sharing your expertise and experience. So what final thoughts do you have for the listeners? And of course, how can people learn more about the book and the work that you do?

- So thank you for having me. It's been a pleasure. My final thoughts are really to remain true to yourself, set those boundaries so that you're able to work when you work or play when you play just like any type of schedule that you set. When you have a specific standing appointment with somebody for work, we wouldn't dare break that well similarly set those same types of appointments for things that bring you joy and comfort in your time. That way you're able to enjoy life and work hard but also play hard. So I think setting the boundaries is really, really critical and something that I think, especially in today's day where so many boundaries are blurred we really need to set the tone. And we can set that tone for ourselves whether we are solo practitioners or leaders within an organization, then others will follow. So definitely that would be my advice and my takeaway and a to find me, my website is I'm also a My book, "Working with Difficult People" is sold anywhere books are sold. It's also an ebook and audio format and I'm on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, all those things @AmyCopperHakim.

- There is no hiding and I'll make sure Amy, all of that information is in the show notes around this video. Thank you again. And I wish you ongoing health, success and fun.

- Thank you, you too. So nice to talk to you today. I appreciate it.

- [Announcer] Thank you so much for joining Morag today. If you enjoyed the show, please like, and subscribe so you don't miss a thing. If you learn something worth sharing, share it cultivate your relationships today when you don't need anything before you need something be sure to follow sky team and Morag on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And if you have any ideas about topics we should tackle interviews we should do. Or if you yourself would like to be on the show drop us a line that's S-K-Y-E Thanks again for joining us today and remember business is personal and relationships matter. We are your allies.

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