Funny how it works, but as I get older, I realize that yes, Virginia, experience does count.
But not, necessarily, in the traditional definition of experience, i.e. “tenure.” Let’s face it, there are people who have 20+ years of experience that equate to very little outside of the company for whom they work. But, there are others, who just by their very presence, “age you” in your professional acumen with their incredible dysfunction.
I’m referring to the battle scars earned from various life and professional experiences, some of which can only be delivered by the people who work around us. At some point in your life, you may have worked with one or more of the following characters that seem to consistently pop up whenever we HR-types gather around the family campfire; if not, maybe another look is warranted:
1 .The Water Cooler – Telephone, telegraph, telegram, and tell-a-this person if you want your news broadcasted throughout the informal chains of communication. It’s so very tempting to sidle up to this person for a chat, but it won’t be long before you are fodder for the discussion. Sometimes, the news is thrust upon you, whether you seek it or not. Learning how to manage this person without getting into the muck with them is a sticky wicket. The complication is that this person is usually a long-term employee, secure in their position, and in an informal position of influence. They know the stories, know where the skeletons are buried, and wield that information like an IRA.
Best tactic? Avoidance. You want gossip? Watch TMZ.
2. The Brother-In-Law – If you work for a big company, this is part and parcel of the deal… at some point, the the kid/brother/nephew/niece of one (or more) of the big bosses will be coming to a location near you. In smaller companies, they might be your new boss-in-training as they finish that tricky Associate’s Degree. Either way, it’s a reality and it’s not easy pickings, pard. You certainly can’t exclude them or ignore them, and you need to be equally careful about how “friendly” you are. If you’re “lucky” enough to have a BIL reporting to you, buy some Rolaids.
Best tactic? Friendly without being friends; if managing, document the hell out of everything.
3. The Abagnale – If you’ve seen “Catch Me If You Can,” you’re familiar with Frank Abagnale, master imposter/con-man extraordinaire. In my life, I’ve worked with two bonafide “Abagnales.” Even in the age of information, somehow these people were able to slip thru the cracks and assume positions of influence within the company despite being complete frauds. Gotta be careful here; people ballsy enough to lie their way into a career are equally good at keeping said career. Call them out and you may be in for a messy situation that claims you as a victim as well. Sun Tzu is especially helpful in these situations, as you want to keep these folks close while waiting for the truth to surface.
Best tactic? Keep your head down, and keep your resume current.
The underlying message here is this: Working with people offers no guarantees. You’ll meet some great ones, some good ones, and some rotten ones—use each experience to build your own competency level for building and or managing teams.
We can’t all be wonderful, so enjoy the lemons as much as you enjoy the apples, it’s still a taste worth experiencing.
John Whitaker (“Whit”) is a SVP and Chief People Officer at Sage Dental and the founder of HRHardball.com (2008). He specializes in building and developing strong recruiting teams who are unafraid of “kicking the ant pile.” Like most Texans, he loves to tell a story (especially those that include an armadillo or a poker game) and cutting through the chaff…don’t take it personal.