Trump. The very name encapsulates his behaviors: to outdo, undermine, outmaneuver, and win. The word isn’t exactly synonymous with teamwork, collaboration, or shared success. Not surprisingly, it’s tough working with someone who has Trump’s aggressiveness and arrogance, even when that person is relatively low down in the hierarchy.
Can You Hear the Brass?
When a Trump-type person is on point, he’s fabulous: sharp, engaged, hardworking, competent, and cocky; the combo gives him a veneer of super-effectiveness.
But he’s been the sharpest knife in the drawer for so long he assumes his gut feeling is always right, and anyone who doesn’t agree is disloyal, a chicken, or an idiot. He airs his opinions loudly, frequently, and with such amazing confidence that people start believing him — even in the face of incompatible data and experience.
Unfortunately, he’s often tin-eared, off-point, or just plain wrong. He’s quick to blame others and mock anyone who’s vulnerable or imperfect. He’ll poke directly into any soft spot, leaving everyone else on edge, wondering what he’ll do, which gives him first-mover advantage.
He lives for brinksmanship, and nothing energizes him like a public joust filled with unanswerable, off-point zingers. He must win, whatever the issue, so he’ll push till you give up from exhaustion or disgust. And because most of us suffer from at least occasional self-doubt, it’s easy for him to disconcert us.
He operates in the guise of speaking truth to power, but his “truth” is really just his opinion based on fundamental attribution error; what he’s actually doing is going after soft targets, putting down people who are weak or aren’t present: “They’re not deserving, they’re idiots, they’re only in their positions because…” Unless he’s already sure he can win, he won’t take the risk of direct confrontation.
He never admits the other guy was right, or apologizes for hurting anyone, or acknowledges being in the wrong — except when someone else has dropped the ball or misled him. He often shoots the messenger. So how should you handle a Trump-type personality?
Playing Your Trump Cards
The standard office politesse, policies, and procedures don’t matter to someone who sees regular rules and systems as chafing irrelevancies. Consider these six suggestions to help make things run at least a little smoother:
- Keep communications short. He has virtually no attention span or interest in depth. Address only one issue — tersely — in emails; he can barely bring himself to skim because he’s so sure he already knows everything. And he won’t bother answering your questions unless he likes or needs you — at least for the moment.
- Don’t bother trying to avoid him. If you do, he’ll trash you, your team, or your project when you’re not there. And direct conflict doesn’t work either: He can blare inaccuracies or accusations louder and longer than you can respond with data.
- Do consider a temporary retreat so you can come back with a new angle. You must be on your game, fully prepared, and confident. Humor helps, because it shows you’re able to “play” with him.
- Show him the upside. To hear you at all, he has to perceive that he — or someone or something he cares about — will benefit.
- Be excruciatingly direct and dispassionate, as if you have no personal interest. Be ready to declare, over and over: “That’s not the subject of this discussion, although we can handle it another time” or “This is not up for negotiation.”
- Never send an anxious or incompetent person to deal with a Trump-type or his team. Introverts will have a tough time unless they have guts of steel and spines of titanium. And if you’re an introvert yourself, it may not be worth trying to build a relationship or continue working with him. Consider your options in another department, division, or company!
Even if the organization accepts that the situation is untenable, it can be a long haul. You’ll have to identify which behaviors create operational risk or violate cultural norms, whether publicly or privately. Document them and their costs explicitly so you can make the termination decision on a clear performance basis.
Onward and upward,