A Practical Guide to Dealing with A “Crazy Person”

Let’s set the stage:  The “Crazy Person” (or CP) is a business owner.  He/She grew the business from nothing and built it into what it is today.  No denying it.  They did something majorly right to get them where they are.

You?  You are a lowly consultant or employee tasked with the job of improving the performance of the business in some particular way.  Well…wait a minute….You THINK you are tasked with improving the performance of the business in some particular way.  A CP might not see it that way.  …and thus….the problem begins.

There are some basic and common threads to CP’s behavior.  Here is a collection of them along with some recommendations.   I do not guarantee these suggestions will work or that they’re the right answers.  They are, fortunately or unfortunately, focused more along the lines of self-protection.  I also do not claim that these are healthy solutions either.  They just happen to have worked a little for me in a “path of least resistance” kind of way.

 These approaches are also targeted to a person who has managed to acquire a position on the “bad side” of a CP and aren’t recommended for anyone on the CP’s good side (like “PET 1” or “PET 2”).  They, (“PET 1” and “PET 2”) GENERALLY can do as they please.  No one is safe, however, and once you’re on the “bad side” you must realize that you’ll never come back.

 These recommendations deal with:

  1. The “Triple A”
  2. Living in the Weeds
  3. Line Level is the Right Level
  4. Herd Mentality
  5. Email is the enemy
  6. Battered Wives Syndrome

 

The “Triple A” Situation:  Audience, Arbitrary and the Argument

 The battleground is a meeting.  The comment or suggestion was a good one.  It might be yours or it might be someone else’s.  The conversation bursts into unproductive flames.   CP dives into a tirade that makes no sense, is random in nature and just won’t stop.

Why does this happen??  Simple:  He’s the smartest guy in the room and he must demonstrate it.  He’s built this company from scratch…not you.  When he has an audience, he has to say something shocking to get everyone’s attention.  He’s the Howard Stern of the corporate meeting.  He loves it when everyone roles their eyes and groans.    It’s a form of attention.  He will go on and on and will target you to make you seem small, insignificant and stupid. 

He also LOVES the art of argument….especially with that audience.  He will argue for arguments sake and not because he doesn’t like your idea.  He LOVES the heat of it all.  He just feels like arguing with someone and damn, if you just didn’t walk right into the trap.

What do you do?  For Pete’s Sake SHUT UP!!!!  Don’t engage when he is in this mood.  Don’t express your opinion.  Don’t comment.  Just put your head down.  Don’t make eye contact.  Let the tirade run its course. (This can take a long time….)  Then get the hell out of the room as fast as you can. 

If it’s your idea or a decision that was being presented, wait for another day and use the “Herd Mentality” approach outlined below.

And remember….24-48 hours from now what he was railing against in this meeting could be the greatest suggestion since sliced bread.

 

Living in the weeds…

A CP loves the details and tactical execution and is not so interested in the strategy.  Strategy didn’t get him where he is today so he doesn’t want some punk telling him he needs to have one now.  Don’t try to engage on this level.  By doing so, he ASSUMES that you have not done your homework on the tactical elements of the plan and he contents himself that you don’t know what you’re talking about as a result.

Discuss strategy with “PET 1”  and “PET 2”.  Lay out the plan with them and only expose the tactical details to CP.

If he wants to do something tactically that doesn’t make sense, let him.  It’s his company.  He doesn’t want to hear your opinion or listen to your expertise. If it’s important, let “PET 1” and “PET 2” figure out how to change his mind because you won’t.

 

Line Level is the Right Level

Don’t answer questions….even if you know the answer.  It’s a setup.  He is setting you up for an argument.  He thinks he knows what you are going to say and is already angry about it before you ever open your mouth.  No win situation. 

When you’re on the bad side of CP, he just simply won’t listen to you.  Doesn’t matter how brilliant you are…you have been dismissed.  Bring in the line staff.  He wants to hear from them and not you.

While exposing the line staff to a CP goes against everything I believe in, it’s what he wants and will keep him happy.  You have to figure out a way to position it with the staff so that they aren’t 1)  freaked out and 2) learn the associated bad behavior.  (Good luck with this part….its a tough go.)

Another variation on this theme is that he will go around you directly to the line staff himself.  Just let him.  Try not to let it bother you.  Don’t question him and just manage the staff perception as best you can.  Be prepared that he will find something in what they are doing that he doesn’t like, will assume it was your idea and will be angry about it or change it without telling you. 

 

Herd Mentality

Don’t ever present an idea or a thought that you haven’t gotten consensus from everyone on the executive team for.  Before presenting in a meeting, make sure everyone is on-board and backs you up.  Get their agreement to back you up.  If you get into a Triple A situation like above, rely on “PET 1” or “PET 2” to take over.  Get their commitment to doing so up front.  You’re always safer in a herd.  (Don’t forget however, that “PET 1” and “PET 2″will also protect themselves if it gets too hot….don’t assume they will have or keep your back all the way through.)  If it gets too hot, get out….regroup with the herd and come back at it another time.

 

Email is the enemy…and other communication concerns

 Do not EVER respond to a CP in email.  I don’t think I need to explain this one.  Face to face is the only way with him.  Let him write 6 page emails, but just don’t get sucked in to doing the same.

If possible, don’t take a CP’s cell phone calls.  Let him leave a message and then call “PET 1” or “PET 2” to find out what is really going on first.  Always know the situation before you walk into it. 

Set up regularly scheduled off-site meetings with a CP.  He likes this, particularly at a restaurant or Starbucks.  Let him spend the hour telling you what he wants you to work on.  Take notes and take action.  This might even need to happen two or three times a week to start out with. 

 

Battered Wives Syndrome

Do not under ANY circumstances allow a CP’s behavior to effect you personally.  It is easy to get sucked into feeling as stupid and worthless as he makes you feel.  It’s not reality.  This will have negative impact on every aspect of your life…work, home and health.  Have confidence in yourself, stay strong and do not ALLOW him to drag you down.

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2 thoughts on “A Practical Guide to Dealing with A “Crazy Person””

  1. Kris,
    Nice read. I think for anyone who has been through something like this in their consulting/professional life there is a voyeuristic pain associated with reading this. Ah, brings back memories. Thanks for the advice at the end.

    Perhaps you have heard of Professor Sutton. There is obviously too much of this type of behavior going on out there in the wild. Check him out here: http://bobsutton.typepad.com/my_weblog/

    Happy trails.

    1. Thanks for the link! I particularly like the “Are You an Ass” quiz. Puts yourself in perspective as part of the problem rather than solution (potentially!)

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