BY AMY COOPER HAKIM
IN ;;;;, communications consultant Muriel
Solomon realized that
everyone can encounter
challenging people at
work, so she detailed specific techniques for handling all of them in a
book titled Working with Difficult People.
Twenty-six years later, her granddaughter, Amy Cooper Hakim, herself an expert in
management, communications and leadership coaching, revisited the book. The result
is Working with Difficult People: Handling
the Ten Types of Problem People Without
Losing Your Mind (TarcherPerigee, ;;;;;
not available at Costco). Combining her
grandmother’s lessons with her own ideas,
Hakim explores what has changed—and
what hasn’t—about office dynamics, and
how to navigate them.—T. Foster Jones
FROM SOCIAL media to smartphones to
multigenerational teams, the workplace
has changed since my grandmother,
Muriel Solomon, first wrote Working with
Difficult People more than ;; years ago.
For example, due to advances in technology, one might argue that those we
work with have greater opportunities to
get under our skin today than they did in
Consider what a self-centered col-
league was like several decades ago. She
talked about herself incessantly and made
every boardroom meeting about her most
recent accomplishment. A modern self-
centered colleague goes one step further.
She takes selfies and posts them on Face-
book and Instagram while the boss is
talking. She even answers a text in the
middle of a one-on-one conversation.
A slacker also looked different ;; years
ago. Back then, a slacker put his feet on the
desk and took a nap. He missed assignments and came late to the office. Today’s
slacker does these things and more. He
uses technology for personal tasks unrelated to work. He surfs the web and
watches You Tube videos instead of meeting deadlines.
Even though the workplace has
changed, many of the tactics used to handle difficult people in the past are still
My grandmother stressed taking
emotion out of difficult situations and
approaching problems with a clear head so
that you ultimately get what you want and
Handling dif;cult people, then and now
• Lead by example. Show respect and you
will gain respect.
• Listen to your employees when they
speak to you. Put down your smartphone
and make eye contact.
• Communicate clearly and directly. Ask
follow-up questions to ensure you are on
the same page.
• Praise publicly and critique privately.
Always sandwich negative feedback
between positive comments.
• Empower employees to get the job done.
Give employees the knowledge, freedom
and flexibility to succeed at work.
• Encourage constructive conflict among
all employees, regardless of rank. Be a
learning organization, always ready to
consider something new.
• Embrace change through diverse
thoughts and ideas. Benchmark best practices of successful businesses, leaders
Building the best workplace
need from each relationship. This is still
an incredibly effective approach. For
instance, to refocus that self-centered col-
league’s attention, don’t get offended, but
rather redirect her in a calm manner:
“Jamie, I need you to look at me when I
speak. That helps me to know we are on the
same page. If your text message is urgent,
I’ll wait until you are free to speak with you
Employees still look to leaders for
guidance and direction, just as they did in
my grandmother’s time. Leaders should
take this responsibility seriously as well,
and lead by example to set the bar for
expected behavior in the workplace. If you
are the boss of a slacker, for instance, it’s a
good idea to set clear boundaries for the
employee. Let him know that internet
usage is specifically for work-related
searches and not to find the latest and
If my future grandchild were to revisit
my take on this book, she would agree that
there are still tough people in the workplace, but difficult relationships will look
different ;; years from now. There will
likely be a primary emphasis on virtual
interactions, as even more employees will
work remotely. Issues surrounding the
permanence of messages on social media
and online platforms will force stricter
organizational guidelines and monitoring,
too. And generational and multicultural
concerns will be even more prominent,
since employees of diverse backgrounds
will work in the global marketplace years
longer than they do currently. Even with
these changes, the proven strategies to
handle difficult people today will easily
apply to guide the leaders of tomorrow.
I’ve learned many lessons from the
ageless wisdom of my grandmother. I only
hope that my future grandchild can say the
same when she revisits my book in years
to come. C
Amy Cooper Hakim is the principal
consultant at The Cooper Strategic Group