Dealing with Corporate Crazies

by  Mike Myatt  |  Leadership Development

Do your workplace communications ever feel as if you’re spending most of your time attempting to assuage the concerns of the irrational? Over the years I’ve simply come to the conclusion that many otherwise savvy business people have yet to grasp – you can’t argue with crazy. We’ve all heard the saying “pick your battles,” and in my experience, one of the most futile battles that can be waged is attempting to change the mind of someone who already lives in an altered state. So, in today’s post I’ll share some thoughts on how to make sure the lunatics don’t gain control of the asylum…

Let’s begin by defining “Crazy.” While most of us don’t encounter clinical insanity in the workplace on a frequent basis, we regrettably must contend with a whole host of other frustrating characters…the irrational, the ignorant, the closed-minded, the pathological liar, the overly political, the self-serving, the zealot, the megalomaniac, the CFO (just kidding), the power hungry, and any number of other “corporate crazies.” The corporate landscape is littered with very sane people who are better suited for the padded room, or the romper room, more than they are the board room.

It is simply not fruitful to attempt to debate business logic with those who do not recognize logic to begin with. If there’s one tidbit of wisdom you need to take away from this post, it’s that you cannot convince someone who always thinks they’re right that they are in fact wrong. No matter how logical and grounded your approach, they simply won’t accept your facts over their opinions, emotions, and self-interests. So, what can you do when logic and reason fail to prevail? The following list of suggestions is my gift to you in hope that it will allow you to outsmart those that feel they cannot be outsmarted…

  1. Define Acceptable Behavior: This first thing all CEOs need to do is to accept responsibility for any “corporate crazies” who have taken residence in their organization. They serve at your pleasure, and as CEO, are your issue to deal with. Rest assured that if their behavior is bothering you, then it’s highly probable that their behavior is adversely impacting others to an even greater degree. Just having a definition for what constitutes acceptable behavior is a positive step in containing the crazies. Creating a framework for decisioning, using a published delegation of authority statement, encouraging sound business practices in collaboration, team building, leadership development, and talent management will all help even out the uneven. Having clearly defined job descriptions so that people know what’s expected of them, and a well articulated chain of command to allow for effective communication will also help people to play nicely.
  2. Hit Conflict Head-On: While you can’t always prevent conflicts, it has been my experience that the secret to conflict resolution is conflict prevention where possible. By actually seeking out areas of potential conflict, and proactively intervening in a fair and decisive fashion, you will likely prevent certain conflicts from ever arising. If conflict does flare up, you will likely minimize its severity by dealing with it quickly.
  3. Understanding the WIIFM Factor: Understanding the other person’s WIIFM (What’s In It For Me) position is critical. It is absolutely essential to understand others’ motivations prior to weighing in. Other than the obvious solution for dealing with difficult people (choosing not to deal with them at all), the best way to calm the perpetual storm is to help them achieve their objectives. If you approach problematic relationships from the perspective of taking the action that will help others best achieve their goals, you will find few obstacles will stand in your way with regard to resolving conflict.
  4. The Importance Factor: Don’t allow yourself to get sucked into succumbing to conflict for the sake of conflict. However if the issue is important enough to create a conflict, then it is surely important enough to resolve. If the issue, circumstance or situation is important enough, and there is enough at stake, people will do what is necessary to open lines of communication and close positional gaps.
  5. View Conflict as Opportunity: Hidden within virtually every conflict is the potential for a tremendous teaching/development opportunity. Where there is disagreement there is an inherent potential for growth and development. If you’re a CEO who doesn’t leverage conflict for team building and leadership development purposes you’re missing a great opportunity.

Bottom line…If you can’t avoid the crazies there is still hope…I sincerely believe productive working relationships can be formed with even the most difficult people where there is a sincere desire/need to do so. Turning the other cheek, compromise, forgiveness, compassion, empathy, finding common ground, being an active listener, service above self, and numerous other approaches will always allow one to be successful in building rapport if the underlying desire is strong enough. If taking the high road fails, or is not the best course of action, then relax…you’re the CEO – you can always let them go, which is probably what you should have done long ago.


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What People Are Saying

B.J. Smith  |  20 Jan 2011  |  Reply

While I wouldn’t call my late mother “crazy,” I couldn’t help but notice the striking similarities between dealing with the crazies you describe here and caring for someone who is suffering from Alzheimer’s Disease: At a certain point, I realized I could not persuade her that it was Tuesday if she decided it was Friday. One big difference: In dealing with a loved one, what day it is ceases to be important. In business, weed out the crazies before they can do more real damage.

Mike Myatt  |  20 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Hi B.J.

Thanks for the comment. I tend to agree with you about weeding out the crazies. Some refer to this as the bad apple theory, but I choose to see it as a simple practical reality. As a leader you must decide to invest in coaching or mentoring a person to a productive place or let them go – there really is no third choice.

Chad Balthrop  |  21 Jan 2011  |  Reply

It seems everyone’s crazy sometimes and we choose our psychoses unwittingly! :) Your points are a great way to manage our manic moments. Specifically, when defining acceptable behavior, if character, competency and chemistry are well known core values within your company then our crazy moments have a context that make managing conflicts easier. I serve in a church that has a paid staff as well as a volunteer staff. As you might imagine, in a church there’s this unwritten expectation for how we’re supposed to handle ‘crazy’. From an employment perspective we’ve jokingly, but somewhat seriously said, “We have a responsibility to minister to everyone, not employ them.” Believe it or not that sentiment also affects how we work with volunteers. If ‘crazy’ habitually contradicts character, competency or chemistry then a break in ’employment’ may be the best solution.

Monica Diaz  |  21 Jan 2011  |  Reply

I LOVED your post, Mike! Especially: “It is simply not fruitful to attempt to debate business logic with those who do not recognize logic to begin with” :D What a statement! The trouble is, from the perspective of CEO, the crazies sometimes don’t reveal themselves so easily to you. They are not crazy enough to be crazy with the wrong people! SO, listening intently to the dynamics of your team is paramount. Thanks for a thoughtful, provocative, light and funny post! I love laughs that leave me thinking…

Conor Neill  |  21 Jan 2011  |  Reply

So true. There is no pleasing everyone. I tend to think that in any group there are 3% who you need to reach and connect to, they will bring the next 17% and the last 80% will only do what seems inevitable. Targeting the 3% who really matter is the key… not diluting the message so that it can “reach” all 100% of the audience for change.

Chad Balthrop  |  21 Jan 2011  |  Reply

Conor –

I really like your 3%, 17% and 80% thought. Thanks for sharing!


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