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Dealing with Difficult People in a Networking Setting

I’m sure you’ve never struggled with dealing with difficult people in your networking group, but you probably know someone who does. If that’s the case, feel free to share this post.

When you do have someone difficult join or visit your group, it’s uncomfortable because you want to be nice, don’t want to burn any bridges but you also want them to stop being so darned difficult. What can you do?

Let’s look at a few scenarios I’ve observed in my years of networking.

1. The person who wants to be “the power behind the throne”

I’m sure you’ve experienced this one. It’s often a long-time member of a group, who may have once been in a leadership position and wants things to run “her way.” However, when asked to serve in a leadership position says something like, “No, I did my time.”

It’s easy to assume this person is being a jerk, when, in fact, she may think she has the best interests of the group at heart. The best thing to do is listen to her suggestions. Many people just want an opportunity to be heard. If the ideas are good, go for it. If they seem out of date or out of touch with the current needs of the group, say so. See if there’s a way to win her to your cause.

That’s likely to work lots better than just ignoring her.

2. The Instigator

Every organization has one. He’s the guy who is always trying to dig up dirt behind the scenes and cause trouble.

Try to discover the real motivation. Is there a legitimate gripe with policies and how situations are being handled? If so, fix them. Enlist his help, if possible.

As much as possible, without betraying confidences, deal with problems openly. If everyone can see that policies are being applied fairly, the instigator loses most of his ammunition. If something truly can’t be handled in public, then pull aside the instigator and let him know he doesn’t know the whole story and that his behind-the-scenes maneuvering is hurting the group. Hopefully, that will stop it. If not, you may have to look to your policies on removing members. The instigator, if not stopped, can irreparably harm a group.

3. The Non-Participator

This one can be particularly tricky, and they generally fall into one of two categories: the “Can’ts” and the “Won’ts”. It’s important to determine which the member is because you deal with them differently.

In general, you want to get rid of the “Won’ts”. They believe they have some reason for not participating, and it’s generally not one the group will be able to overcome. Maybe she’s angry with someone in the group. Maybe he believes he just doesn’t have time and won’t be convinced otherwise. If you can find an underlying cause you can deal with, go for it. Otherwise, figure out a professional way to ask the person to move on.

“Can’ts” are a different story. They can be educated. Someone isn’t giving referrals? Find out what’s in the way and attempt to address the issue. Someone isn’t showing up regularly? Again, talk to the person and try to figure out why. Education will often convert a “Can’t” into an enthusiastic participant.

There are three categories of difficult people. Have any to add?

  • Jay

    4. The dead weight…or should that be #3 sub paragraph a? There are too many people who like to have all sorts of activities, organizations, committees, boards listed on their CV, but how many of them actually *do* anything, other than sit there, attend meetings, and then rinse/repeat, without offering anything of value? Bugs the #$%^ (insert your favorite four letter noun here) outta me!

  • admin

    That’s a good point, and I do think it makes sense as a subset of #3. Collecting accolades while barely earning them.