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The Crank Everyone Hates (or Fears)

Can You Afford to Lose Your Crabby Subject Matter Expert?

I love curmudgeons, cranks and super smart but terrible-tempered experts. I have discovered that most of the subject matter experts you cannot afford to fire, yet who make it so painful to work with them, actually have one of four issues and that they can improve their behavior.

Issue #1. They have low emotional intelligence. This is by far the most common issue and is most often founded on the inability to read or control non-verbal communication. While most of us were learning to interpret the looks and gestures of those big people above our cribs, this did not come naturally to a some. Imagine if a frown and crossed arms may as well be in Latin. Or a raised eyebrow and turned down lip is Serbo-Croatian. What seems like it should be a normal gift to every mammal, is incomprehensible to some. You can tell your curmudgeon may be lacking this human ability if you see:

  • They dress really badly or inappropriately. They are literally not picking up disapproval cues.

  • They often show emotional reactions that are extreme or inappropriate to the situation.

  • You can tell when they are bored or angry because they do not control their own nonverbal communication well.

  • They complain that others yell at them or misunderstand them.

  • They may monopolize conversations or say things that really do not match the mood of the room.

Curiously, the super smart person with lower emotional intelligence can improve because they are learning machines, they just have not been taught in a way they learn. I have taught several people body language as a cognitive study, instead of a more intuitive one, and bluntly told them what they are missing and why they might not be creating the results they want. It doesn’t always work. But sometimes it really does.

Issue #2. They wish to be acknowledged for their contribution really, really badly. It is often true that the person who most needs an “atta boy,” is also the person least likely to set it up so they get it. If you do say something nice, they might not be nice back or might kind of pretend they don’t want that when they deeply do. Or they might even say something mean to you because they are uncomfortable with praise. This sets up a cycle that is hard to break down.

I often have such people take the Gallup StrengthsFinder as I then have access to their greatness. You would be surprised how easily people let down their guard when someone sees their inner light and wants to talk about it with them. I can often give them a gift of language that explains themselves to others in ways that make them nicer and more approachable.

Issue #3 They do not understand the impact of their behavior on others.

I know it is hard to believe but most people do things that really do not help them because they do not understand the impact. For example, you may have an office yeller. Maybe they grew up in a yelling family or just don’t understand how how unprofessional they are being. Maybe they do not know how that shuts others down. Or you might have someone who talks all the time and really does not understand how that appears to clients or the team. Or even someone who shares too much about personal things. So everyone starts to avoid the TMI person.

It might be time to collect a 360 degree feedback assessment. It can be very hard to hear that you stand too close to your female colleagues and make them uncomfortable when you are unaware of it. It is painful to know that most of your team hate to work with you. But once the impact is kindly but firmly delivered, you would be surprised at how people change.

Issue #4. They are sociopaths. Sorry, can’t help you. Some people just are not okay, need professional help and need to stop scaring the rest of the people at work. Do your homework well and get rid of them.

If you have a cranky misanthrope on your team, I would love to coach them. Call me to discuss what you see and what you hope for: 651-274-6461.

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