Dealing with Difficult People
17 December, 2018
Unfortunately, I have worked in several companies that were highly dysfunctional. I look back and wonder how I survived so long and what I could have done differently to change things. The biggest issues I had was working in a culture of confrontation, blaming and bullying when making decisions or understanding a problem. These behaviors came from the top and were encouraged as a way of weeding out the best ideas (trust me, this does work!) When I was dealing with these issues, I was not in a place to make the final decisions and didn't feel empowered to stand up to the entire exec staff. I had one woman, our CMO, who didn't want anyone to challenge her ideas. In a meeting she would use condescending language to get you to back off. We usually ended up arguing to no avail. In the end, she would get her way, and no new ideas were ever entertained. In another situation, I had a CEO who was always right. And when he got into a bad mood, there was no way to correct him, even if you had the data to prove what he was saying was wrong. He spent a lot of time just yelling at people and never listening.
Looking back, I wish I would have taken a different tact with the CMO. Instead of fighting with her I think a better way is to make her feel listened to. Start by repeating back her ideas and acknowledging why she might feel the way she does. Then slowly start introducing your ideas. Make sure they are not threatening but instead introduced as questions ("What if we thought about it another way..."). For the CEO, I decided to meet with him before a big meeting with other people in the room. I would come with the data I was going to present and let him understand it before we got in front of an audience. This really helped. Part of his issue was not being patient. When he didn't understand something, he would get angry and feel out of control. My meetings went a lot smoother when he understood.
It is never ok to create a culture of dysfunction to get creative ideas. No one wins in this scenario as it creates a place where people don't get to be accountable because decisions are pushed down from the top. No one wants to give ideas for fear of being shut down. I now work for a fully functional company where everyone is accountable up and down the org. Open, honest communication is required to work here. The difference I have noticed is that people feel like they can make a difference and therefor try harder and aren't afraid to speak their mind. When someone at the top creates a culture of fear and control, the rest of the organization gets in line and does exactly what they are asked to do and no more. Eventually companies like this will fail or stagnate because only a few people at the top are holding it up. If you want to build a company that will last, empower your employees to be a part of the process. Encourage questions and ideas and let people run with them. Allow for mistakes to be made and then learn from them and keep going.
Namrata Ganatra, CTO at Lambda School, delves into all aspects of helping engineers transition from an IC to a manager role.
CTO at Lambda School
Elizabeth Daggert, VP of Engineering at GuideSpark, taps into her experience of overcoming Imposter Syndrome to become an inspiring, impact-making leader.
VP Engineering at GuideSpark
Damian Schenkelman, Principal Engineer at Auth0, dissects his own efforts to become a mentor and establish a more formal mentoring program within his company.
Principal Engineer at Auth0
Marc LeBrun, VP of Engineering at Flow Kana and a co-creator of the Apple Mac, delves into the importance of understanding different personality types in the workplace and explains why the traditional Golden Rule -- treat others as you want to be treated -- doesn’t always apply.
VP Engineering at Flow Kana
Maria Petrova, Principal Product Manager at Zalando details how she strategically mapped out features using a KPI tree to drive measurement, ultimately helping the development team understand their role.
Principal Product Manager at Zalando
You're a great engineer.
Become a great engineering leader.
Plato (platohq.com) is the world's biggest mentorship platform for engineering managers & product managers. We've curated a community of mentors who are the tech industry's best engineering & product leaders from companies like Facebook, Lyft, Slack, Airbnb, Gusto, and more.