Dealing with Mr and Mrs Nasty

Last Updated May 26, 2010 12:49 PM EDT

Mr and Mrs Nasty can be your boss, your customers or your colleagues. You may not want to deal with them, but you have to deal with them. The question is how, especially when tempers and the temperature start to rise and it is hard to stay cool.

There are two sure fire ways of making things worse:

  • Argue the righteous logic of your position. Fighting emotion with logic is like fighting fire with petrol: spectacular, but not advisable
  • Get emotional. As soon as you descend into the sewer with Mr Nasty, he will get on his high horse and trumpet how unreasonable you are. He wins, you lose.
So if neither logic nor emotion works, what does?

The goal is simple to state, hard to achieve. You need to do the following:

  • Stay positive and professional. How you behave is as important as what you say. Look the part, don't look the fool.
  • Focus on the desired outcome. Where do you want to be at the end of the conversation? Work towards that end and avoid getting dragged into the mire. As a rule, it is better to win a friend than to win an argument.
  • Focus on common interests, not on narrow positions. At its simplest, a position may be: "You messed up" the common interest is "we need to find a solution".
So how do you stay positive when Mr and Mrs Nasty are doing their best to enrage you? I have asked many executives this question, and here are some of the best answers I have heard:
  • Imagine what your favourite role model would do in this situation, and then do the same thing. If your role model is a mix of Darth Vader and Vlad the Impaler, do not use this technique.
  • Become a fly on the wall and watch the event. As you detach you will be able to think more clearly and objectively, without getting emotionally involved.
  • Imagine Mr Nasty in a pink tutu. It is hard to get angry with a fat fifty year old in a pink tutu. Not laughing (or being sick) may be a greater challenge than staying calm.
  • Pull out your imaginary Uzi and splatter their brains over the wall. As Mr Nasty does not even know what you have done, he can not retaliate.
  • Count to ten, just like your gran told you to. Let the immediate flush of anger pass and regain control of your feelings.
  • Breathe deeply, as taught in Buddhist meditation lessons. Like counting to ten, this allows you to regain control and lets you respond professionally.
Finally, remember that happiness is the greatest revenge. Mr and Mrs Nasty are nasty today and probably have nasty lives. That is their problem. They may make you stressed today, but tomorrow you will be happy and they will not. You have won.

(Pic: collagekid, cc2.0)

  • Jo Owen

    Jo Owen practises what he preaches as a leader. He has worked with over 100 of the best, and a couple of the worst, organisations in the world, has built a business in Japan; started a bank (now HBOS business banking); was a partner at Accenture and brand manager at P&G. He is a serial entrepreneur whose start-ups include top 10 graduate recruiter Teach First and Start Up, which has helped over 250 ex-offenders start their own businesses. He has and has spent seven years researching leadership, strategy and organisation in tribal societies. His books include "Tribal Business School", "How to Lead and How to Manage." He is in demand as a speaker and coach on leadership and change. His websites include Tribal Business School and Leadership Partnership