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How to manage people who present problems

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger

Managers want their staff to present solutions not just problems. Ideally someone comes to you with a problem and a solution. You acknowledge the problem and agree the solution. Which may of course require the authorisation of resources. This is what you had in mind when on taking up the post you said you were here to offer help and support. You’re sure this is what the rest of the team understood you to mean. One individual however seems to delight in bringing you problems and rather than asking for help is almost challenging you to find a solution because every suggestion you make they tell you why it won’t work, that they have already tried it and it didn’t work or they come back with a new set of problems they attribute to your solution.

This is the Henry and  Liza dynamic or the hole in my bucket scenario.  It comes from a traditional children’s folk song. Variations on the theme can be found in countries across the word dating back hundreds of years. The song is called, There is a hole in my bucket. It takes the form of a conversation between two people, Henry and Liza. Henry tells Liza that he can’t fetch the water from the well as she has asked because there is a hole in his bucket. To which Liza says well fix it. This is where the fun begins.

He asks her how to fix it. She says with straw. He tells her the straw is too long, she suggests he cut it with an axe. He informs her the axe is to blunt. She suggests, a hint of impatience in her voice, he use the sharpening stone. He points out that to do this requires wetting the stone with water. Well fetch some water from the well she says becoming somewhat exasperated with his responses. But he is ahead of her he points out that to fetch water from the well he needs a buck and his bucket has a hole in it!

This is passive aggression. The individual appears to be seeking help and advice and is certainly not refusing to undertake the task but is simply identifying some practical problems that are preventing them from doing what is asked of them. Such negativity and the skepticism which accompanies it is very wearing.

Passive-aggressive colleagues are often unhappy or insecure in their jobs. But rather than clearly flagging an issue as something that needs to be addressed, passive-aggressive co-workers instead express their displeasure by creating obstacles, wasting time, and generally making everyone’s job more difficult, not to mention less enjoyable.
There is no point in letting your frustration show, try and find out what’s really bothering them but hold them accountable don’t let them getaway with it even if it would be easier to do it your self or ask someone else to do it.

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