What Makes You Difficult?

When I became Chair, everybody warned me about two people who were going to be extremely difficult. I went in prepared for endless aggravation from these two.

But guess what? They turned to be the easiest, most pleasant people to work with.

I now realize that what many perceive as “difficult” is that these two know exactly what they want and they verbalize it strongly, clearly, and decisively. I don’t mind being pushed because I can push back. Or not if an argument is clearly articulated to me and I find it convincing.

What I do mind is the people with a low tolerance for conflict who try to communicate their feelings through passive-aggressive sulking. I’d so much rather have somebody say, “this schedule / textbook / whatever” is inconvenient to me. This is what I propose instead” than have them go into a sulk, forcing me to guess what they are unhappy about.

3 thoughts on “What Makes You Difficult?”

  1. Yeah, that’s been my experience, too. I have always gotten along well with notoriously ornery people because they are usually not ill-intentioned, just opinionated and direct and with a low tolerance for bullshit (my grad advisor was one of them), and since I am not afraid of them, they relax around me. For the longest time I found the passive-aggressive Midwestern types extremely frustrating, but now that I’m fluent in that language I can usually figure out the useful information or genuine opinion that’s buried underneath all that equivocation.

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    1. Another thing people don’t seem to realize is that most people like it when small decisions are made without their input so they can save the time/energy for other things. For example, I am mentoring a junior faculty member who was forever obsessing over whether or not she would be able to teach certain courses in a certain order and whether the chair would agree with her idea or think ill of her, because the chair might or might not have suggested something else in an off-hand comment. It took me forever to convince the junior faculty member that the chair will be delighted with a clearly articulated teaching development plan over several years, so worrying about this one junior faculty’s teaching will be one less thing they (the chair) had to worry about. (Of course I was right and it all went without a hitch.)

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  2. Ditto. Working with people who suggest and insinuate is crazy-making. You basically feel like you’re about to be fired all the time. My grumpiest bosses have always been my favorites: I always knew where I stood with them. I’ve never needed people to be nice to me. I desperately need people to be clear.

    Liked by 1 person

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