Dealing With Difficult People – Direct Your Meddling Meddler

by Dr. Rick Kirschner on April 20, 2009

meddlercolorContinuing on about dealing with the difficult behavior of meddling, today’s idea is that if someone insists on getting involved in your business, give them something to be in charge of or ask them to be responsible for some result.

After all, if a person is determined to be involved in your work or personal life, why deny them the pleasure of what they so obviously want?  For all intents and purposes, you can put yourself in charge of their behavior instead of being at the mercy of it. Since they are already interfering, give them a specific job in which their interference is welcome.  

For example, assign them the task of watching out for problems. Or  task them with the task of making sure that everything works out just right at the end.  Or have them keep the overview and monitor progress, like supervising a task and reporting back to you.  Or ask them to attend to a specific detail, or a single action,  and make it happen.  

Start with “Since you’re interested, I have a request of you.”  And then give them direction.  “W0uld you please contact the florist and make sure that the arrangement will arrive in time?”  

Or ask if you can ask them for their advice in an ongoing way about one particular aspect of what you’re doing.  “May I contact you and get your opinion The idea is if you can give them something to do, that one thing may distract them from everything else.  They feel involved and you gain the freedom to focus on and do the rest. Click!  

My client Betty was supposed to be the head of the event planning team for her company’s Client Rewards Program in the wine country of California.  She had a track record of success in planning previous meetings. It was common for clients to praise the events they attended and her caring attention to details.  

But now there was a new element in the mix.  Wanda had recently been promoted from the company office in another state, and was now Betty’s manager.   No one knew how or why she had been promoted.  She seemed to have little to contribute, but she found a way to interfere in just about everything.  As a result of her influence, deadlines on projects were often missed, morale was getting lower and lower, and once happy clients were growing increasingly restless over the mixed messages coming from the company as a result.  

And now, for no discernible reason, Wanda was interfering in one of the company’s most successful projects, the annual Client Reward Event.  Every step of the way, Wanda could be found poking her nose into each facet and detail.  She was constantly, and annoyingly, telling Betty what she should do, though Wanda had never done this herself.   Need catering?  Wanda knew best.  Need flowers?  Wanda knew best.  Need a speaker?  Wanda knew best.  Only she didn’t know.  And no one knew this better than Betty.

Yet Betty realized that if she challenged Wanda this early on, it might bode badly for her position in the company.  Her team would have been thrilled to have this tackled in the short term.  But the long term, the risk was too great, both to Betty and the team.  Wanda had a reputation for pettiness and vindictiveness, and there were so many ways that she could make now-frustrated people absolutely miserable.  Something else had to happen.   Determined to make the Client Reward Event successful while building a better relationship with Wanda, Betty did the unexpected.

It was Thursday afternoon when Wanda got the urgent call.  “Wanda, this is Betty.  I need your help.”  “What’s wrong?” asked Wanda? “We have two big challenges, and I don’t know what else to do.  Will you help me?”  Perhaps it was the invitation to meddle that made the offer irresistible.  For whatever reason, Wanda jumped at the opportunity.  “Of course I’ll help, that’s why I’m here.  Whatever you need, just say the word.”    Betty asked for help with two things.  First, she needed someone to secure the location.  Betty said, “There’s no question that the place we want is the best in the business.  They have all the amenities our clients have come to expect, and a reputation for going the extra mile.  The problem is, they book up early, and they charge more than we have in our budget.  With so much else to do, I’m thinking a heavy hitter like you could pull on some of your connections and get us this place at the right price.  I can’t do it.  But I bet you can.  Will you do this?”  Wanda became silent for a minute, then said, “Yes, I’ll find a way.  What else?” 

Betty said that there was one client who, each year, found a way to make extraordinary demands that required too much of the team’s attention. 

“If I knew Mr. Jacoby was taken care of, that he was getting the kind of first class attention that someone in your position could provide, it would free us up to make the event a success for all the rest of our clients.  He’s one of our biggest clients.  You’d be my personal hero.  Will you allow me to direct all of Mr. Jacoby’s concerns to you?” 

Betty assured her she would stay in touch and get updates on progress with the location, and the needs of Mr. Jacoby, and that the team would be forever grateful to have the new boss so involved in these very important to-dos.  Wanda agreed that it would set a good example for everyone.  She seemed excited to have something to do, and Betty figured that she would learn soon enough about the very demanding Mr. Jacoby.  Tasked and ready, Wanda took charge of her two assignments.  

Betty could have taken care of all of this with the team she had in place.  But this way, she’d made her team’s workload lighter, and gotten Wanda off her back.  And best of all, she and Wanda now had a reason to connect, on her own terms. 

The key on this blog is that you always have a choice.  And the more choices you have, the more likely it is that you have the choice that will work.  I’m not even close to done providing choices for how you deal with meddlers. But that’s all the meddling I’m willing to meddle with for now.  Your stories, feedback, questions and comments are most welcome.

Be well,


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