Benign to Five on dealing with difficult people

Difficult people are a dime a dozen, aren’t they? That’s less than one cent each, and still you’re probably paying too much.

People who use words like “douche” and “awesome” are difficult. People who speak loudly on trams are difficult. People who own Chapel Street bars are difficult. Shiny faced, purveyors of anger with persecution complexes are difficult. Wealthy people who say things like “If only I had that much money” are difficult. A majority of people are difficult.

So when the opportunity arose to attend a training course in learning how to deal with them, I screamed “You beauty!” in a stranger’s face and threw my coffee in the air. It probably landed on someone – I don’t really know.

Anyway, after I’d done the course, I wrote a column about it:

Difficult lessons

A friend recently told me that she considered professional development course options to be ‘‘the sauerkraut of the work world’’. Every year, it seems, she gets to choose from a mere two options: Dealing with Difficult People or Excelling at Excel.

I admitted I thought Difficult People sounded fun. She pff-ed, spattering my face with tarry cynicism, and recommended I consume dropping.

‘‘If it sounds like fun,’’ she followed, ‘‘why don’t you come with me?’’ So three months laterI did.

A man who called himself ‘‘a facilitator’’ started the day by facilitating the movement of his left gonad back into his shorts. He then dispensed some wisdom in the same way an old tap dispenses foul-smelling, browny-orange liquid. The ‘‘learnings’’ from today, he said, could be used on difficult people ‘‘like a silver bullet through a zombie’s brain’’.

After a morning tea break in which he ‘‘nipped down to the TAB’’ for two hours, the facilitator told us it was ‘‘role-playin’ time!’’ and did a small, coreographed dance. He asked us to break into groups and act out challenging workplace scenarios in front of everyone else.

Halfway through the first group’s awkward attempt, he yelled ‘‘boooring’’ before lifting his leg and emitting a foghorn sound from his buttocks. At this point, my friend snapped: ‘‘The problem is, none of us are difficult people, so this is just pointless.’’

‘‘I disagree,’’ he replied.

I didn’t understand what he meant until, at the very end of the day, when he was handing out the certificates and making references to something called ‘‘boobage’’, he gave me the subtle wink of a man quite distinct from the character he had created.

Turns out we chose the right brand of sauerkraut.


An edited version of this article first appeared in the MyCareer section of The Age and Sydney Morning Herald.

You can read Benign to Five in those papers every Saturday, and if you miss it, you can look it up online in the BusinessDay section of The Age, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Canberra Times, WAToday and Brisbane Times. (I now wankishly call myself a “syndicated columnist” on my CV.)

Picture 4


Haught fact of the day:

If you don’t like the word gherkin, you can use “cornichon” or “crumpling”.


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