Befriend the curmudgeon

I love the conversations that occurulate at the IAAPA Attractions Expo! This one in particular was with a client who was having trouble communicating with another employee.

A little background…

The client (we’ll call her Lisa) was having trouble getting through to an employee (we’ll call him Al) who was tasked with fixing things around the facility as they broke or became unusable or unsafe.

According to Lisa, Al has been at the facility for 40 years, and has gotten a little curmudgeony.

In one particular case, Lisa had been asking Al for a printout of all of the work he had completed. Lisa is not Al’s boss, but she wanted that information because these tasks had been called in by her staff, and she wanted to be able to show that management was listening and taking care of their concerns.

Unfortunately, Al was less than forthcoming about providing that information.  He had all sorts of excuses why he couldn’t, or why Lisa wouldn’t actually want it.  In the end, it became a source of contention between the two, and now Lisa admits to not even talking to Al unless something needs to be fixed, and it’s usually an urgent (and tense) situation.

In fact, this all came about because Lisa was wondering what to tell her employees about the work being done. She was really at a loss.

But that’s not the real issue.  The issue is the relationship between Al and Lisa.

I asked if there were any situations where they actually did get along or that Al was cooperative.  “Yes”, Lisa said. “When talking about the safety and security of the facility, Al is all on board.”

Ah ha! So, he does CARE!  That’s important.

We then went on to talk about the fact that Al had been there for a while, probably had his share of “baggage”, and (as anyone would) was possibly burned out on ONLY being spoken to or approached when things were broken, or he was being asked to jump through hoops to fix something right away that didn’t line up with his priorities.

Lisa concurred this was likely.

So, since we can’t MAKE Al just be more productive and cooperative, we have to change the story around this situation.  That challenge falls squarely on Lisa’s shoulders.  Here is what I challenged Lisa to do to “befriend the curmudgeon”:

  • Talk to Al when there wasn’t an emergency.  It might be tough at first, but just starting a conversation with someone about non-work stuff, or complimenting something they’ve done can open them up to being more cooperative.  Al is protecting his turf that gets bombarded on a daily and hourly basis.  Conversing outside of those situations shows you also care about Al – not just his ability to fix things.
  • Find the “crack”.  Through conversations, you can find the way “in”, behind their natural defenses so you can actually be productive when the time comes.  Al seems to be all about safety and security, but what else is going on there? What other common bonds can you find to help carry on conversations that show Al he is valued as a person, as much as an employee?
  • Act on something Al suggests.  In a show of good faith, is there something that YOU (Lisa) can do to implement one of Al’s ideas so that he sees that you are listening to him, as much as you want him to listen to you?

If you have a curmudgeon, or someone you avoid, or one of those “well, that’s just the way they are” employees, you may… no you WILL need to take the first step to fix the relationship so that you can both move forward.

For Al and Lisa, this is a work in progress and I am very excited to hear how things go when Lisa gets back to her facility.  This will not be a quick fix, and Lisa knows that it will take some patience and persistence to make this work. Hopefully I can share a positive progress report with all of you in the near future.

Thanks for reading!!


Available at the IAAPA bookstore (or Amazon if you want the Kindle version)!!

Book cover with amazon


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