What makes dealing with office crazymakers difficult is that most of us want to be good team players. When someone rubs us the wrong way, we assume that this is just because we have differences, and all we need to do is sit down and talk things out. Or we try to be extra nice to the person, telling ourselves that he or she is just having problems at home or under a lot of stress. With most people, these strategies work just fine. But not with crazymakers. The usual rules for building positive relationships will not work with them.
Living or working with a crazymaker is a recipe for depression if you don’t take steps to protect yourself. Crazymakers can be extremely charming until they don’t get what they want, when they may suddenly morph from dearest friend into blood-sucking vampire. This makes them difficult to recognize upon first acquaintance. Even after allowing their true natures to show, they may flip back into their sweetness act again and make you think you imagined all the horrible things they did to you during the vampire phase.
Here are some signs that you may be dealing with a crazymaker:
- You often leave a conversation feeling enraged, bewildered, terrified, weepy, or doubting your own sanity.
- You feel you have to “walk on eggshells” or the person will do something unpleasant.
- You find yourself doing things you know are wrong or changing plans at the last minute in order to give the person what he or she wants, then feel angry at yourself.
- You waste hours rehearsing speeches that you’re never able to make when the person is actually there.
- Others in your workplace talk about the person, whom they may refer to by such choice terms as jerk, schmuck, asshole, bastard, bitch, etc.. They may also argue about how to deal with him or her, one party favoring lenience and the other strictness.
Crazymakers, like ice cream, come in different flavors, which you can read about in the “personality disorders” section of the DSM-IV. Some common ones in the office are narcissistic, obsessive-compulsive, dependent, antisocial, histrionic (passive-aggressive or otherwise), avoidant, and paranoid. Whatever type of crazymaker you’re dealing with, it’s important to remember that the rules for dealing with normal people don’t apply to them.
It’s quite possible to deal with them effectively, but this requires a different set of rules. Here are some suggestions for dealing with crazymakers:
- Minimize contact with a crazymaker whenever possible. If you have to deal with the person, try to do so by phone or e-mail rather than face-to-face. Even dealing effectively with a crazymaker can be draining, and you need to save your energy for better things. If your boss is a crazymaker, you should be looking for another job: you deserve better!
- Remain calm at all times. Never let a crazymaker know that he or she has upset you. If you pretend, he or she will not be able to see through this. The keyword is “strength.”
- Be rigid. Flexibility is great when you’re dealing with normal people. Crazymakers just see it as a sign of weakness and do what they can to exploit it. Set limits and take action when they're violated. If you make a threat to a crazymaker, you must follow through with it.
- Don’t try to “be yourself” with a crazymaker. Play act. If you have to flatter a narcissist or pretend to agree with a paranoid’s suspicions to come away unscathed, that’s okay. It’s even okay sometimes to lie to a crazymaker. We’re talking survival here.
- Don’t try to build a relationship with a crazymaker. You can’t have one. All you can have with a crazymaker is power struggles. Accept this, do what you can to build your power, and survive.
- Get support. This will not be hard to find, as a genuine crazymaker hurts lots of people who will love to compare notes with you. If the crazymaker is a coworker, you may need to talk with your boss about the person; if he or she is your boss, you may need to talk to the boss’s boss, though this can be dangerous.
Yes, I know you’re a kind, compassionate person who would much rather be nice to be people than masquerade as a Nazi prison guard, but this really is the only way of surviving daily contact with a crazymaker. What helps is to think about being kind to the next person the crazymaker might hurt if you don’t take care of yourself. Also, remember, that crazymakers tend to feel better when people stand up to them. Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for another person is set limits.
Coming next: Dealing with E-mail Overload