Coffee with Robert Kabushenga on How to Deal with Difficult People

In the #360Mentor series, Robert Kabushenga shares his experience on dealing with Difficult People.

We meet difficult people everywhere in family, school, at work, clients even in fellowship and sports. They are there. We have created incredible names for them; we call them weird, toxic and many other names. We think they are mad and crazy; the words we use are endless. By the way, do not be deceived to think that it’s only the other guys who are difficult. Even you, you are difficult. Even me, there are people out there who call me difficult. We all have our own degree of being difficult.

The question is; to what extent do you show some of the traits that I want to talk about? Because of the people that I met and the experiences that I had with them, these are things that they taught me. One of them was patience. Some of these people, you knew they were difficult but you had to work with them. You had to have a relationship with them. It was as simple as that. It is the nature of work. That is the way things happen. You have to relate to them.

The others are difficult but you need them, because you have a particular task to do with them. That is all you really require. These I had to apply a completely different strategy. You bear the guy for the time that you require to get that job done and then you know that after the task you don’t have to leave with this person ever again.

What I will say now, and what I learnt then is that; you have a responsibility that you are going to run into a difficult person, you could even marry them. Your main job is to learn them. Invest in understanding people. Learn their character traits. You owe it to yourself to know how to deal with people. Then it prepares you for the situations you will find yourself in.

What are the traits or personalities we could say are difficult?

  • Brilliant people – these ones used to frustrate me as hell- they pull your hair out. They are guys you call brilliant fellows.  Absolute sharp brilliant fellows! The problem with some of them is that as soon as they get bored, that’s it. The guy just won’t do the task. He is competent, brilliant, a nice guy but he won’t just do the task because he is bored. He loses interest in the task that you have given him, and that is the end of the story.
  • Natural rebels – they don’t mind getting involved in reckless behaviour. They do not mind putting in a beer to abuse the boss. They cannot function with a group of people around them. They get bored immediately.  They are the guys in school who would abuse the teacher. They are reckless. Sometimes they do it for the thrill. Sometimes they just want to see what comes out. They become so difficult to manage on a team. They are the kind that lead strikes in school. These can cause instability. They cause guys to go off the trail.
  • Drama guys – they are always looking for attention. They always want validation and approvals. You become a baby sitter rather than a team leader. If you don’t give them the approval and attention, they sulk. It is never easy with this kind of type. At every opportunity, they dramatize everything.  They are the guys who walk into office and tell you the office is on fire. Or they call you from home and tell you there is no food at all. They are the cry wolf type of characters.
  • Flame throwers – they don’t wait to hear the complete story. They just ignite and blow up. By the time you figure out that it was actually unnecessary, the guy has already caused so much damage around the place. They just explode. They have mood swings. They are difficult to get along. Today you are seated with the guy having a good time and a small thing ticks him off and then he is shouting at you. And you are wondering whether you did anything wrong at all.
  • Self-Promoters (the narcissists) – they are in love with an image of themselves; not exactly who they really are. They have been creating an image of who they are and then they spend most of their lives trying to portray this image. In the process the rest of us are watching and saying no you are not that, but we have to bear with you. It gets worse if these people are in the position of power. Those guys are deadly. These are the kinds of people who are always name dropping, any social interaction is a completion of some kind. These are the guys who when you are telling a story have one that is better than the one that you are trying to tell. In meetings, they have all these grand things. You cannot beat them at bragging. They are very domineering, because they are pushing you to accept something that you do not accept. What I discovered is that most of them are trying to mask something. They are trying to hide a deep insecurity that they are struggling with. They have a make-belief personality that they are trying to get you to accept and buy into.

All these personalities do not appear in boxes. Each one of us has all the elements of what I have just mentioned. It’s just which ones we push the most and whether we are self-aware to know that some of these attributes and traits are negative and actually sabotage our ability to grow.

  • Control freaks – they are the guys who insist that their procedure must be followed. It doesn’t matter whether their procedure makes sense or not. Whether you are in an emergency or not. Even if the house is on fire they will insist to bring a form for you to first fill out. They never know the difference between procedure and pedantry. They want everyone to fit in the rules. They become experts at quoting the rules. For them, if these rules are not followed then disaster is likely to happen. They are very domineering. They just make the process stall until things move in the way that they know and want. They make life impossible for everyone
  • Then there are the experts at avoiding taking any form of responsibility. They just will not take on anything. They tend to be introvert. They can come through as quite rude. You can never understand who they are. They are closed up. Getting them to do things is almost like being in a circus. They end up coming through as callous, as uncaring. Sometimes they are blunt. They can be called the non-feeling. They fear criticism, because deep down they can’t handle rejection. They are very skilled and highly intelligent people. The challenge is that we live in a society and must collaborate with one another. We have to deal with people.
  • Then there are the kind that take themselves too seriously. They cannot even crack a joke. They can’t make fun. They are so wooden. Even in their way of dressing. Can even put on a suit to the beach. They can just be rigid. They can cause you stagnation, because you can never get them to do the things that you want them to do. No sense of humour. No light heartedness.
  • Clingy people – these whine a lot. They are so dependent. They can’t move or do anything. They cannot stand on their own. You find that on top of your own task, you have to babysit them on top of your own task.

In summary those are the groups of people that you can say they are difficult. The things to look at as you are looking out for these people is that; they are hostile, rude, callous, dependent, domineering, reckless among others.

Sometimes, I must warn you, invest in knowing people. We conclude that the person is too complicated when actually we have not invested time in understanding this person. Sometimes you may think this person is proud but only to realise they are deaf. Please be careful, not everyone you fail to understand is difficult. We are all complicated and want to be understood.

Make sufficient time to understand what amounts to a difficult personality. Do not just write off people. Have the humility to understand that you are considered difficult by other people too, including myself. Take the time to find out how to deal.

I found myself having to deal with very difficult people as clients, bosses, stakeholders, employees. This is how I managed to deal with such characters. It becomes more difficult if they are in places of authority than you are.

  1. I took time to learn myself. I used to be very rush. I would pick off a few details and run away with that. If you meet a meticulous person, you will get frustrated because that person is not going to move. Because they are in their position and will do what they have to do. Take the example of getting into an office and find the receptionist on their mobile phone, they are not going to be rushed by your need to be attended to. I learnt that before I go into a place, I first take control of that part of me; being rush. I would even take off time to rehearse. So I would breathe in, greet the person politely, be nice. Learning the negative aspect that would make it difficult for you to deal with difficult people is absolutely essential.

The first difficult person that you must deal with, is you. Do not be one of the people who go somewhere and ask “do you know who I am” please do not be that person. You will provoke a situation. Probably a gunshot from the askari.  In my new circumstances that lesson has come in handy. When I get to a place, I humble myself and approach the askari. When they recogonise me, I play up the connection. Learn yourself.

  • Please if you are dealing with a difficult person, show them that they are very important. Remember what your objective is. You have not gone there to contest that person, do not get lost in fights trying to prove who you are and what took you there. Do not get into fights. If your name is important, it will open doors. Be polite. Learn to be humble. Try to remain calm and quiet. Understand yourself and the things that sabotage you and then work on them. It took me a long time and I am still learning to be patient. You are the first difficult person you need to control. When you travel, you realise you are not that important. Do not let who you are ever lead you into such people.
  • Learn to read people. I used to tell people at office. You must invest in knowing your boss or supervisor. You may never know that a man is impotent and he is trying to prove his masculinity and that then involves him taking it out on you. Once you know, it helps to guide on how you go about them. Sometimes, they have an image or reputation that he wants to protect. Talk to other people who know this person very well. In the early days at the Media Centre, I knew I was going to get a hard time with the civil servants. I needed to be friends with the person who was going to be releasing finances. Once I let them know that her son was my friend, she treated me as a son and that eased everything. When you visit the person’s office, look for something that is emotionally connected. Or do an internet search of what they like. Read their surroundings and pick it up from there. I saw it with people in office, they would always talk to me about farming. Or go to the extreme of what they like. You also have a responsibility. This is what I did. If I ever met someone I knew I would need in future, I would go over to the person introduce myself and leave. Just establish rapport. You owe it to yourself to establish human connection with that person. Some people know that someone is difficult, they just send emails and messages, build a relationship with difficult people however difficult it may be. Respect and humility will always move people.
  • Learn some ways of kissing a bit of people’s behinds. What do you lose? There are people like the narcissists, sing for them their praises. Focus on the benefit not the damage to you. But there will be situations which are untamable. If it has become impossible then you might have to refer to a higher authority.
  • Sometimes you have to be firm with difficult people and tell them where you stand. If you are a subordinate, you may have to leave. There are some things where it is not called for, say it. Some people have bosses with bad behaviour, call it out. Sometimes calling them out may be better that the consequences of keeping your head under the sand. You have to be prepared to leave if you are the subordinate.

Comrade Otoa: What has really worked for me is endurance. The question of; is it really necessary. Difficult people below you are easy but those above you are very hard. How do you handle office politics? What stands out is your authenticity.

Hashim: What a session!

Stella: How can I differentiate between someone being a difficult person and being principled?

Peter odeke: How would you know whether it is you who is the difficult person and how’d you change?

RK: It is going to take you a lot of time. If you realise that something happens at work and at home. If you have a partner, they can help to give you positive feedback. But also yourself, you have to reflect and think about the decisions you make and evaluate.

What about where the boss is in cahoots with the difficult person?

RK: Just go. The boss could be working with this person to be difficult. Just go.

Bruno: I am short and wear specs; most people say I am difficult. Does height deficiency mean that?

RK: There is a prejudice about short people being difficult. I think it is being unfair to people of modest height. Judge people for who they are. It’s got nothing to do with height.

Qn: My boss is not happy with me not dealing with a difficult person.

RK: We all know we have difficult people. There are managers who just want to be hard. They identify a difficult person and they want you to deal with them the way they want.

Qn: What about in a situation of clicks?

RK: If you are a new comer and you find that there are clicks, first wait to join the groups. First understand why cliques emerge. Don’t try to break clicks, they may gang up against you.

Please remember that human beings/people are one big body of hormones, they change. Understand what people are facing.

Qn: How do you deal with the kissing up or being kissed

Brian: How do you balance your values and dealing with a difficult person?

RK: It all depends on what you want

Phionah Tumusiime: Communication, at what point do you get to know that a person is being a problem?

RK: Our education system makes us think we are the bad people. The way to deal with it is to reflect on your own circumstances. But if you are not sure, consult.

Charity: How do I deal with a boss that undermines my abilities.

RK: Bring it up. Keep a record of what your boss does. Don’t just say you are being undermined. Once you say, mention when the boss undermined you, it is objective and the guy will listen. If they do not listen, then you do not need that relationship. Then you have to go.

Qn: How do you deal with a difficult boss who is ignorant of a certain field and is not willing to learn from resourceful subordinates?

RK: That one is tough. But in most organisations they like written reports, so get into the habit of involving other people in the ideas you are suggesting. But this is a political case, if your boss is not listening, there are two ways to go about it: give him the idea and ask him to go and sell it as his or just go to his overall boss and present your suggestions and let the boss be the one to approach them.

Emmanuel: Talk about the situation of dealing with millennials as a baby boomer.

RK: My advice to people supervising millennials, look at your children. They are the example of the difficult people you are dealing with. Children teach us many things that are new because they are on the front line of technology. The moment you are open to those cultural shifts and changes as a supervisor then you are going to get the most out of them.

For the younger people trying to get into the new world, you may know more than us especially in tech but you still have to deal with us in the positions of authority. You may not accept our conservatism but you also need to understand how do you create an alternative world. If you are living in my house, you won’t change the rules because I am the owner of the house and the rules have to be conservative but if you want to have a different set of rules, maybe you go and have your own place and persuade me that your rules are better than mine. That is what happens. I am happy to have this conversation on Twitter.  Many of us baby boomers are not open minded enough. We think young people are not open minded enough. Some of us are quite happy to engage with younger people.

For the younger people getting into the work space, you may need to know how to deal with us.

10 thoughts on “Coffee with Robert Kabushenga on How to Deal with Difficult People

  1. It was a great presentation with relevant examples considering RK’s rich experience and diversity. I liked his response to the millennials versus baby boomers debate. Wait for the session. My feedback though is there are some typos in the transcript and that the Twitter spaces platform just failed many of us yesterday and we resorted to youtube. Otherwise keep up the momentum as you use your voice and brand to leave a better generation than you found. Blessings upon you and family

  2. Very good Piece. One that can be referred to often. Thanks very Much. As earlier stated, the Typos can be taken care of please.

  3. Hey David, once again thank you wry much for transcribing. Wow the season must have been very interesting and got the deserved attention.
    Noted and got confused with the term CLICKS. Did you mean cliques? It’s somewhere in the Q&A section.
    I love your writing sir. Keep it up.

  4. Kangye, thank you for blessing us big. Your work on these sessions is helping us to catch up with the missed live sessions. This particular sessions opened me to the truth I didn’t know.

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