Dealing with an Office Provocateur

Unless you’re at the very edge of the bell curve, you must have had a chance to work with people who are smarter than you. Chances are, some of them were a tad difficult to work with. It’s easier to deal with a fool who overreacts and blows things out of proportion than with a brilliant person who behaves this way. The latter’s actions are likely premeditated, aimed at achieving a particular outcome. Don’t believe the theory that some people are just nasty, and the corollary that super-smart people can be nastier than others. Every person has a story, and if you make a sincere effort to understand it, you’ll be one step closer to figuring out the reasons behind it – if not outright helping them improve.

Your misbehaving genius may be trying to send you a message, so you better read between the lines. Like most communication issues, it might be a management problem, not a personal one. If you are the manager, your job is to facilitate smooth and friendly communication between all stakeholders. Blaming your problem on other people’s psyche won’t solve it. Worse, it will reflect poorly on your ability as a manager.

How do you deal with a troublemaker who can outsmart you? First, let’s talk about the consequences of ignoring the problem and hoping that it will resolve itself. Anyone who ever tried hiring smart and capable people knows how hard it is to find them in the first place, meet their expectations when it comes to employment terms, and retain them long term. When you finally seal the deal, the last thing you want is to lose them. This is exactly what might happen if you blame them for their bad behavior. Don’t take their actions at face value; dig deeper and find the cause.

Chances are they are trying to induce some change, a change that is actually sensible. They probably tried a kinder way first – long ago, perhaps – but their attempts fell on deaf ears. Chances are that said change is difficult to make. It might be some confusing and inefficient process they’re trying to simplify, some roadblock that other people choose to ignore, or an organizational behavior that needs to be modified. Either way, once you figure out what they are trying to say you can deal with it head on. If you can do it without talking to the offender, it’s probably for the best. Here’s why: if you talk to them, they’ll likely tell you how to solve the problem and be very particular about the implementation, some of which may be nearly impossible to carry out. However, if you deal with the core issue yourself and reach a “good enough” solution, they may accept it as a compromise and move on.

Next time you’re trying to deal with a similar issue with your resident genius, give this idea a try. Even if it doesn’t help, it’s guaranteed not to hurt anyone. After all, that change you’ve made should have probably been made anyway. Once you’ve done it, things should get better all around.