“The job is easy. It\’s the people that are difficult!” How many times have we said that?

During my years as an administrator in nonprofit organizations, I saw a variety of behaviors that did not promote professionalism. The following are my observations:

Managers do not cry. They negotiate.

Kelly was a well-respected leader in her field. She had been in middle management and came to our organization, not understanding the amount of clerical work involved in her position. Probably out of frustration, she was frequently reduced to tears.

Kelly was the coordinator of our annual three-day conference. Our organization was the host, and a sister organization was the sponsor. Kelly was in charge of food supplies, volunteers, the nursery, and some of the logistics. It was a big job. Over 1,000 people were registered for the conference. But she had a big complaint. A legitimate complaint. The sister organization made the decisions while Kelly carried them out. She complained, “They make the decisions, but I have the responsibility. If something goes wrong, I\’ll get the blame.” Did she try to negotiate? No. What did she do? She cried. Tears flowed down her face until her eyes and nose were red and swollen.

She complained to her boss. “My managerial skills are not being used. I am a leader.” Tired of her tears, he never changed her job description. Sorry, Kelly, managers don\’t cry. They negotiate.

Managers do not whine. They work.

Judy was a finance manager. At every staff meeting, she said the same thing, accompanied by a heavy sigh: “This is my worst month of the year.” It began with January. “It\’s January and I have to get contribution statements out by the end of the month.” Then, “It\’s March; I have to get my records ready for taxes.” Next, “It\’s June, and I have to get everything ready for the audit.” Every month it was something else. One of the staff members finally caught on to her whining and said, “Judy, every month is your worst month.”

She convinced the powers that be that she was overwhelmed by her unfairly large workload. So, one task after another was taken away from her. But, she was never satisfied. She was always overwhelmed.

Whiners enjoy grumbling about their perceived problem, because when you offer them a viable solution, they refuse to take it, absolutely defying that your resolution to their dilemma will work.

There are obvious benefits to whining, but they are fleeting. Managers don\’t whine, Judy. They work.

Managers don\’t refuse to play the game. They participate.
It\’s okay to play the game, as long as it does not compromise your principles and your integrity. When it\’s literally a game, you definitely play.

Every spring, our staff had a miniature golf tournament. It was really fun. The guys set up the course in the building where we worked. They were very creative, constructing obstacles from anything they could find, from piles of books and files to toys and rockers from the day care center.

We were all set to play when someone said, “Where\’s Mary?” Someone went to find Mary. He came back with the message, “Mary\’s too busy to play.” Bad decision. Everyone knew she wasn\’t any busier than anyone else. She refused to play the game and gave the impression that she thought her work was more valuable than that of her co-workers. She set herself apart. Managers don\’t do that, Mary. They participate.

Managers don\’t allow others to influence their behavior. They\’re objective.

How do we cope with negativities on the job, including dealing with our reactions to others and their behavior? A difficult co-worker may be someone who stabs you in the back, withholds information, or simply ignores you and shuns you.

Gerry was my co-worker. She had seniority over me based on her longevity with the company. I greeted her with a cheery, “Good morning, Gerry.” Nothing. Just an icy stare. I asked her for data on a project that we shared. “I\’ll e-mail it.” But I never received it. She withheld crucial information. I tried everything, including being as nice as I could be. I even invited her to dinner, which she accepted, but never returned. Nothing worked! It was only later that I learned that everyone had a problem with Gerry. She felt threatened by her peers. If you weren\’t 20 years old, you were in trouble. She even drove her shrink crazy! Obviously, her therapy wasn\’t working.

Two things may help us deal with others objectively: First, people have idiosyncrasies. Sometimes mean ones. When we are the recipient of their maliciousness, it\’s good to remember that it\’s their problem with their personality and has little or nothing to do with us. Second, something in our background may cause us to overreact to someone else\’s negative behavior. An unkindness or lack of cooperation may trigger a painful experience in our personal history. It\’s good to be honest and look into our past and see if an old hurt may have caused us to overreact.

It\’s both fun and challenging to be a manager. True, the people may be difficult. However, it\’s helpful to remember: negotiate the problem, work instead of whine, participate in the game, and be objective when dealing with difficult co-workers.

Ginnie Mesibov was a successful writer, motivational speaker, and nonprofit administrator when the diagnosis of a brain tumor caused her to look deep into her soul. There, beside the pain and fear, she found strength, courage and hope. The result of her agonizing but liberating introspection is her inspiring book, Outer Strength, Inner Strength—52 powerful essays written as personal letters to today\’s woman.