Managing High Maintenance People

How are High Maintenance People (HMP’s) best managed?

The acronym CEO is a way to describe their behavior. It denotes

C= Controlling

E= Entitled

O= Ownership

 Controlling

HMP’s like to be in charge of their world (and ours). Their response comes from a deep sense of insecurity and a fragile self-esteem. It often translates into bullying/controlling behavior. Just try to push back, express your own opinion, or have your own voice with a HMP and you meet with instant hostility or judgment. Standing up to them is not a very pretty scene. You may even get a nasty tweet from them.

 Entitled

Think of the times you encountered road rage. You may have been traveling too slowly for the HMP and he (usually a male) drove close to the rear of you car, flashed his lights and honked his horn. It was his way of saying “The road belongs to me, get out of the way!” Often such entitlement comes with rank, wealth, gender, and class. These individuals believe they always deserve the best and in so doing demand it no matter the cost to others. I’ve seen these entitled types push their way to the front of a line and demand immediate service.

Ownership

“What did his last slave die of” was the frustrated response of an employee to me about her HMP boss. He would make unrealistic demands on her time without respect for her other important projects. Being viewed as someone else’s property is at the heart of sexism, racism, and generally found in a possessive person.

Get the picture of the HMP? Not a pretty scene.

What are the best strategies for managing such people?

Run or fade away

There comes a time when we say to ourselves about HMP’s “life is too short for this crap. I’m out of here.” But this is sometimes easier said than done especially if you have a lot of time invested in that person on your job or in your personal relationship. Remember that playing the martyr is the heart of codependence. You will never change their behavior. But you can change yours.

Get off my back 

Such a frontal approach works better with some HMP’s than others. This is especially true in confronting people who use the direct approach themselves. Interventions, as used in confronting those who are causing misery through the abuse of substances, are at times effective especially if the HMP stands to lose a lot. However, choose this tactic carefully by deciding what battles you actually want to fight and what consequences you want to enforce.

Pause between stimulus and your response

Not jumping into the swamp with the alligators is a prudent tactic. How often have we told ourselves “I wish I had counted to five before I responded (or not responded) to the HMP”? A way to do this is to try and find something right about what they are saying like “This is a very urgent matter for you. What project do you want me to put on the back burner while I take care of this matter? The latter can often diffuse a volatile situation. 

Transform the suffering into compassion

This is a very mature and evolved response. The ancient Tibetan Buddhism practice of tonglen trains us to transform the suffering that comes from living with HMP’s into compassion using one’s breath. As one breathes in slowly one allows oneself to experience the full force of the pain of being controlled and owned by an entitled individual. You accept it as is, without judgment. In breathing out one expresses the wish that HMP’s will be released from their burden and experience freedom and joy. This exercise is best done in private for your benefit to recalibrate your emotions.

HMP’s are found in every sector of life. Learning to manage them effectively helps us keep our sanity and not reinforce their bullying behavior.

What did you do with your HMP?

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About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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2 Responses to Managing High Maintenance People

  1. Great blog again Cedric. My thoughts: when their behaviour is aggressive, up your energy level and be competitive back, in a constructive way. Say “just to be clear, your demands are not feasible, so we need to discuss a more practical solution.”

    You are so right: you can’t change them, sadly, but you can change your response to them

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