Thursday, April 21, 2016

The Dos and Don’t of Managing Office Characters

Guest post by Judy Nelson

Let’s face it, every office has, at least, one character. If they’re harmless and carry their load, most coworkers tolerate characters or even protect them. If they’re abrasive and add to the burden of others, coworkers don’t—and you might have a tricky situation on your hands. There are important Dos and Don’ts as the manager of a character that can have significant consequences for your organization.

Who are these characters? The behavior that designates character status varies. Maybe they are a loner or a hermit, walking through the hallways looking down, making limited or no eye contact with coworkers. Some characters are loud talkers; some characters have a twitch; some blurt things out at strange and often inappropriate times. Or maybe their behavior is best summarized by an often uttered phrase like, “That’s just George.”

(And if you are thinking your workplace doesn’t have any of these characters…well, I have some bad news for you about your role at the office!)

If you are the manager of a character whose failing performance and odd behavior is creating a “situation” what do you do? Proceed with caution. Here are some important Dos and Don’t to consider:


ü  Model 100% professionalism. As a manager, your job is to keep the peace and protect the rights of your team. This means that you should limit your intervention to what applies to the professional atmosphere of the office.

ü  Separate personal from professional. Your actions should address only what affects individual performance and productivity.

ü  Get answers to important questions before proceeding. Keep the focus on the behavior and its effect on the individual’s work. Consider the following:

·         Does the behavior prevent the person from doing his or her job?

·         Does the behavior inhibit the person from effective participation on the team?

·         Is the behavior something the individual can correct?

ü  Have a plan for improvement that focuses on behavior and performance only. Again, zero in on the job-related, detrimental impacts of the character’s behavior. Specify the needed corrections, a timeline for requested improvement, and offer assistance to help them meet their goals. Also, clearly communicate the consequences if the behavior doesn’t improve.

ü  Document, Document, Document. A written account of any incident or intervention will never be a bad thing to have on file.


ü  Don’t try to make everyone be friends. Interpersonal relationships are not your area. Ostensibly everyone involved should be a grown up!

ü  Don’t participate in the marginalization of the individual. Ostensibly, you should also be a grown up!

ü  Don’t try to diagnose the individual. It is NOT your role to determine the mental health or illness of a colleague, and it could subject you to charges of slander. It IS your role to focus on performance and to help the individual do his or her job. You are not a therapist or a medical professional, so don’t diagnose. And even if you are professionally trained in these areas, you are not the character’s therapist or medical professional, so you still shouldn’t diagnose.

ü  Don’t try to go it alone if you aren’t sure what the law is. Certain behavioral situations such as those where a medical condition might be involved require professional consultation before taking action. If the person is, in fact, suffering mental or emotional challenges, you need advice about proper accommodation requirements. If you have a Human Resources department, lean on their expertise. Otherwise, I recommend an outside party well-versed in the particulars.

Managing a character has its problems to be sure, but there are also possible rewards. Throughout history, the greatest innovators and problem-solving artists of their time were people considered odd or eccentric. Your office character could well be the salvation of your organization one day.

My mother always said, “It takes all kinds of people to make a world.” That’s also true of organizations. It takes all kinds of people to make your team. Our job as the manager is to treat all members of our team with respect, professionalism and decency.

What would you add to the lists of Dos and Don’ts? We’d all love to hear your insight in the comments below.

@CoachJudyNelson has golfed with presidents, been heckled by famous comedians, and researched insurance policies for riding elephants on behalf of Zsa Zsa Gábor. As a former CEO, Judy has been a Certified Professional Coach since 2006 and assists leaders and career seekers to develop and reach stretch goals. Her new book, Intentional Leadership (Motivational Press, 2016) debuts later this year.

No comments: