Business Administration Education Guide

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Choosing your battles

Impossible people are everywhere and normally I can avoid them by just not returning their calls or emails or by simply walking away. However, when an impossible person is someone in business the answer isn’t always so easy. I remember one particular administrative co worker I shared an office with. The position and company was an ideal match for me, however the co worker I shared a business office with created an unbearable administrative environment. The entire department including other business administration departments literally dreaded any communications or activities with this person and had filed several complaints with Personnel without any improvement. To make matters worse I was one of only a few people who stood up to her bullying. This only antagonized her into more radical bullying.

The concept of picking your battles is supposed to mean you pick the battles that you can win. Choose your battles carefully. Don't let frustration or exuberance lead you into a situation where even if you win, you lose. Winning isn't just about winning the argument - it's also about resolving the problem or maintaining a relatively sane business administrative relationship with the person. From my own experience based education I believe that choosing the timing of your ‘battle’ can be more important than choosing what to battle over. There will always be occasions when what you want to win will weigh heavily on timing.

If the person with whom you’re having a problem with is reasonable and sensible, solutions are relatively simple. I’ve learned to ask myself two questions when the person seems genuinely levelheaded.

  • Was the mistake my fault?
  • Is this a case of misunderstanding?

Try to see it through the eyes of the other person. Does the mistake or problem cause them difficulty? If a mistake cost me 2 extra hours of administrative work I would definitely be upset. If this is the case and you are at fault there is every reason to believe that apologizing will end the problem. After apologizing, ask this person to show you what not to do so you don’t repeat it.

If this isn’t a mistake of yours you can either eat it as yours and let the person who did the mistake know what happened or you can ‘pass the buck’ by letting them know who made the mistake.

I have taken the mistake as my own and let the other person know. This solved a potential argument while it also created a more positive business relationship with someone else. In one case, I learned that the ‘mistake’ had a much longer history than just 1 person or incident. After back tracking and investigating the newest mistake to the original; we found out it was created by a software malfunction a year and a half before we had been hired. In addition, there were several of these little mistakes lingering about in the business’s internal system.

Everyone I know has encountered an impossible person at one time or anther. Rather the person was an administrative co worker or an irate client; they tend to share three main characteristics:

  1. They are convinced that everything is someone else's fault
  2. They believe they have done no wrong
  3. They cannot be reasoned with

There is no one right answer in dealing with impossible people. I’ve had a career with both healthy & toxic business relationships. When faced with a toxic administration I have tried different methods to resolve the situation or at the minimum continue a business environment with as little confrontation as possible. The one thing I have realized is that each person I have had a confrontation with have responded differently to what should have and what should not have worked. As I travel down Memory Lane here is my education in dealing with impossible / difficult people.

Recognize there may not be anything you can do about impossible people.

Impossible people have developed a complete mastery of blaming skills and could be education experts. They can proficiently convince others that they are the victim or someone else is the cause of all the mistakes. Realize that if you accept responsibility for your own faults and resolve to improve yourself, it's not you; it’s them who are the problem. Remember, impossible people can do no wrong.


You cannot deal with impossible people the same way you deal with everyone else.

On most occasions you may have to confront impossible people the same way you would confront a child having a temper tantrum. I remember confronting a roommate who wasted away six weeks and couldn’t pay the following month’s rent. I told her half of the rent was her responsibility and she needed to find a way to pay her obligations. She flew into a rage screaming about how she couldn’t deal with all the pressure I was putting on her and how unfair it was that I couldn’t “just deal with it” that she didn’t have the money. Her temper tantrum got do dramatic that I actually started laughing without meaning to. Needless to say she moved out a couple of days later.

Protect your self-esteem.

If your ‘impossible person’ is a business administrative co-worker you work with daily they may portray you as the source of all evil. You need to take active steps to maintain a positive self-image. Remind yourself that this person's opinion is not the truth. However, do not defend yourself out loud in an argument; it will only provoke the impossible person into another tirade. Much like not showing fear to a wild animal, do not show anger to an impossible person. They will grasp anything that provides them the opportunity to lay blame and guilt on you.

Don’t allow the impossible person make you into a “replica" of them self.

If you find that you suddenly understand and agreeing with the impossible person chances are you may be adopting much of the offender's own behavior. This is a huge and precious gift to the impossible person so please avoid it at all costs. I know it sounds terribly cheesy but be a "can do" person. Human behavior is changed through positive modeling.

Impossible people will see your kindness as weakness.

When an impossible person asks something of you, don’t decline right away. If the favor is something that helps you, a co worker or a business, project go ahead and do the favor. However, if it is something that you honestly don’t have time for or the ability to complete kindly, confidently and regretfully decline. Sometimes, just one favor will turn a person’s behavior towards a more positive one. On the opposite side of the coin… one favor can also add fuel to an already building wild fire, so consider the favor and outcome before accepting.

  • Be confident but not argumentative
  • Do not attempt to make any physical contact with the person; even if it seems harmless or well intentioned.
  • Ignore them
  • Kill them with kindness
  • Never tell others in the administration office how you feel about this person. You never know who talks to whom
  • Talk to your boss / supervisor

If all else fails, start looking for a new business. Full time employees spend 40 hours a week at the same place. Salaried employees can spend much more per week. The hours may not always be happily satisfying but neither should they be horrendously stressful. We should spend as many hours as we can enjoying what we do in our lives. People who have become ‘impossible people’ have given up on life and feed off those who have not. A personal hero for me is Donald Trump who said if you’re not enjoying what you do for a living than your not doing the right thing.

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