Ep 77: Survive the QuaranTEEN!

Episode Summary

Amy Cooper Hakim, author of Working With Difficult People, joins us for a discussion on how to deal with the most common types of difficult people, particularly when you are quarantined with them!!

Show NotesInterview TranscriptGuest Bio

Full Show Notes

The global pandemic COVID-19 is causing the world to stand still. It almost seems unreal—like a sci-fi movie. Schools are closing rapidly, causing college students to fly home from all over the country and primary learners to learn from online platforms. Parents who can are working from home, making rapid adjustments to comply with their new work routine. Situations are rapidly changing every day, and it might seem like there’s no consistency. But for some lucky households, one thing remains constant: Family.

With parents working from the kitchen and children of all ages going to school in the living room, families are taking on a new dynamic. In some ways, it’s like living with coworkers. Boundaries need to be set, responsibilities need to be met, and—perhaps most importantly—conflicts need to be resolved. Spending so much time with each other in such close quarters might be challenging for some families, but this worldwide phenomenon is also a chance for parents and their children to grow closer and foster positive growth!

To understand exactly what parents can do to create the best possible quarantine environment for their families, I spoke with the queen of work relationships: Amy Cooper Hakim. She’s the author of Working with Difficult People: Handling the Ten Types of Problem People Without Losing Your Mind and holds a Ph D in industrial organizational psychology. She’s the absolute authority on conflict resolution in the workplace, and being currently quarantined in Florida with several children of her own means she has firsthand experience applying her knowledge in a home environment!

According to Dr. Amy, two of the most crucial things parents can do to create a functional home environment are set appropriate boundaries and maintain an atmosphere of honesty. Although it’s sometimes hard, Dr. Amy believes in the importance of parents acting not only as a child’s “bestie,” but as an authority figure. It’s the same as being a CEO or manager—you need to lead by example, and what you say goes. In our interview, Dr. Amy gives incredible advice on how to balance this firmer parenting approach with one of empathy and compassion in order to show your children not only do you love them, but you want to care for and protect them, too!

She also shares what she plans to do during this unusual time to teach her children valuable lessons about perseverance, cooperation, and selflessness. With incredible optimism, Dr. Amy sees this time as a wonderful chance for her and her family to grow closer, and I know her advice will help you as well! In our interview, we talk about:

  • Practicing tact while delivering advice and criticism to teens
  • How teens often fall into one of several kinds of “difficult people,” and how to deal with each one
  • Prioritizing logic over emotion in family conflicts
  • Specific practices parents can implement in their homes to bring their families closer during quarantine!

During such odd times, it’s a joy to hear from someone so experienced and so optimistic about what families can do to bring out the best in each other. If you’re concerned over how you should be handling this quickly evolving situation, I highly encourage you to listen in! Dr. Amy is sure to have some advice that applies directly to you, and your family.

Complete Interview Transcript

Andy: So, okay. I just finished reading this book, Working with Difficult People: Handling the Ten Types of Problem People without Losing Your Mind. And it’s even more than 10 because you have 10 genres of people. And then within each one of those, you break down sub-types of people that you could encounter within each of those. So it’s really detailed and it’s really cool. I wonder how you developed this framework and how you came up with all of this wisdom and what inspired you to put it all into a book?

Amy: So I’m an industrial organizational psychology practitioner. In plain language, I help employees and employers get along better. And my grandmother was a management consultant and actually a mentor of mine. And she wrote the first version of this book. She encouraged me to go into the field, and I loved working with her, and I helped her with her first index for this particular book many, many years ago. The first version was, gosh, over 25, 26 years ago now. And I realized that this book was still selling and had so many valuable points and considerations yet it was lacking some of the modern verbiage, modern jargon. And so I approached the publisher and asked if I might revise it. So I was able to revise and modernize something that meant a lot to my grandmother and able to contribute to her legacy while helping society.

Andy: A lot of the strategies in this book center around how to figure out the right questions to ask people and how to kind of put on your like investigator hat, and instead of getting caught up in this conflict and going along with it and letting it kind of sweep you into maybe an argument or a fight of some kind, just kind of being a little more dispassionate and examining it and questioning the person to figure out exactly what’s going on and getting it out in the open.

Amy: Sure. And yet the idea of applying logic and trying to take emotion out of difficult relationships is something that is it runs the course of time because when we’re able to not react due to emotion, but step back and say, “How might I get what I want and need from this person? What is this person’s angle?” and apply from a bit of a more logical or pragmatic stance, then we’re able to move that relationship forward. But using logic to dictate our actions instead of necessarily jumping from an emotional standpoint is something that I really encourage people of all ages to try to do. And it’s harder to do than we think because we are emotionally invested in much of our daily interactions.

Amy: So I try to first off define the type of person and the relationships specifically. You might have a narcissistic boss. You might have a narcissistic colleague or a narcissistic subordinate as someone who works for you. And the reality is that that person displays similar tendencies, but the way he or she acts is different based on his relationship to you. And so recognizing that, recognizing how that person’s thinking and what you’re probably thinking about that person, and then devising a strategy to get what you want and need from that individual. And then I also include different talking points and obviously they would be changed based on the scenario. But the idea is here’s some language that you could put in your back pocket and pull it out when you need.

Amy: And ideally even practice. Set up your smartphone and practice role play if you can with someone else or even just by yourself. Record yourself speaking, and look at your body language and see how, if you’re actually having a direct gaze, if you’re appearing to have a smirk, whatever it is so that you can refine your delivery and better deliver when you are in person.

Andy: Yeah. I thought it was cool how you break everything down to if you have a boss who’s doing this, if you have colleagues who are doing this, or if you have subordinates who are doing this. And the name of the conversation here is talking to teens. So we definitely focus on parents. And I noticed a lot of things in the subordinate sections and in the colleagues sections that I was like, “Oh yeah, these would apply to parents.” But then I also felt like the stuff in the boss’s sections would be really helpful for teenagers dealing with adults in their lives.

Amy: One hundred percent. Yes. I mean, it’s easy to apply some of these challenges. When I go into the workplace and I talk to a boss, a lot of times I say, “You have to remember that you might speak to your child this way. And that would be the way that an employee might feel in relation to a boss in certain relationships.” And so similarly, if a child wants to better understand how his or her parent might behave, looking at the boss qualities might help us to say, “Okay, well, this may be how my parent would act.”

Andy: There’s a lady that we talked to, Jane Nelson, who had this whole system for dealing with the unmet needs that kids have. And she said there’s multiple different ones that kids can have, but one of them was revenge. A kid who feels like you’ve wronged him and is trying to get back at you. So it struck me. You have one in here called revengers, but you had some really great points in here. So I wonder for parents, especially if you’re got a kid who kind of seems like they’re trying to get back at you a little bit for disciplining them or whatever, how would this revenge thing maybe look in that situation?

Amy: Well, if you know that a child is trying to act in that way, then the key is to set boundaries. I think that many children just need boundaries. And when they understand that certain behavior is not allowed, not permitted and that there will be consequences, then a lot of times we can nip some of that in the bud. I think that parents in today’s society try so hard to be friends with their kids instead of truly serving in that parental role. And I think that when we’re able to say, “I love you and care for you and in order to do so, I need to protect you. And sometimes we’re going to do things that you may not agree with or like, and if you do not behave appropriately, there will be consequences.”

Amy: And we have to have that from love. So we still have the love and we’re still able to support, but we need to be direct and firm in our approach and stand toward what we say. So if we actually say that there will be this consequence and that consequence needs to happen, even if the kid whimpers or apologizes profusely, the key is to make sure that, “Okay, thank you for that apology. Thank you for recognizing this is not the right behavior. This is still going to be the consequence. And hopefully it won’t happen again.”

Andy: Yeah, right. Not like caving in to their behaviors and going back on the consequence or whatever.

Amy: Mm-hmm (affirmative). I see that so often. Parents are just so into being besties with their kids. And while I love, I have three kids, I love spending time with them. I love it, but I’m the parent. And they need to know that to some degree. And when children pass the teenage years and get into adulthood, I think there is a transition that happens where we feel more like we are friends with our parents. And ultimately we take care of our parents as they grow older. And so I think that we’ll see that transition throughout the life cycle, but at the stage of teenage hood, when you’ve got children who may act in ways that are completely inappropriate and want to see a reaction, that’s when we need to let them know here are the rules and here’s what you’re permitted to do, and here’s what you’re not permitted to do.

Amy: And it’s funny given today’s, well, not funny, but ironic given what’s going on in the world right now with coronavirus and these requests for social distancing, I’ve seen a number of videos online where parents have said that their kids are bored and their kids say, “Oh, well, we’re not going to be the ones who will be negatively impacted by this virus. So so-and-so’s going out. This person’s having a play date. Can I?” So you hear these parents. I actually watched a video of someone from Italy who said that she let her kids go out. And in retrospect, she shouldn’t have because it wasn’t the right thing to do. And she caved and I was thinking, my kids. So I live in Florida and my kids are now in this where we’re home for social distancing. And my kids, actually, each of them, I have a 15 year old, a 13 year old and a nine year old, and each of them had requests for play dates from parents.

Amy: So the parents said, “So and so want to go out. Are you letting them have get together? Kids are at the mall and at the beach.” And we said no. Our kids were not-

Andy: They’d love that. I’m sure.

Amy: But they understood. And I think that, I think that that’s the key. And you can explain yourself or not. In a case where a child is behaving out outwardly, we were talking about revenge, outwardly doing something vengeful, then you need to say, “This is inappropriate and here’s why.” But there are some things that might deal with safety or something that might be beyond the capacity of a teenage mind, where you still would say, “You may not understand this, but this is the reason, or I don’t even need to give you a reason. I’m your parent.”

Amy: I think we should reserve those “I don’t need to give you a reason; I’m the parent” for select situations, especially as kids get older, because they want to know, and they want us to be sincere in the way that we approach them. They don’t want us to try to sugar coat or pull the wool over their eyes. They’d rather it be legit. And I also feel like it’s so important to be truthful. So even if we don’t choose to share the full truth due to a maturity issue, or only want to share information on a need to know basis kind of thing, make sure that the message that you do share is truthful.

Andy: Another one I loved and here is bootlickers. So these are people who really like to get your attention and win your support. They cling like parasites. They’re not lazy or helpless, but they are manipulative.

Amy: Yeah. And I think, especially in family type settings, you might have a kid or two who try and do this to get your attention. And they just always are going to say what you want them to say, even if it’s not necessarily the truth. And I really discourage this type of behavior because it truly is manipulative. And this gets back to the way that kids try to take advantage of their parents and manipulate them by saying what they want.

Andy: What you need to say.

Andy: And knowing that.

Amy: Yeah. Get the results you want. And of course, in the business world, you need to tell me if there’s something that you have negative feedback, you don’t just tell me what I want to hear, the good things. Our bottom line is going to suffer if we can’t be honest and if you won’t just be open with me.

Amy: And we have to be honest, and we have to expect that candor. We also though have to teach and reinforce the importance of tact. We need not share every piece always be as honest. I talk to my clients about, and as a female, I’m allowed to give this example, but let’s say that I come and I have this amazing dress that I’m super excited about. And I show my spouse. I say, “Oh, how do you like this?” And he says, “Oh, you look beautiful,” but I really look horrific. I don’t want him to say I look beautiful because if I don’t look good, then I will feel badly when I’m out in public if it’s see-through and I didn’t know.

Andy: Yeah. Right, right.

Amy: Give that as an example. Ah, but what if he says, “Oh, you look so beautiful” because that’s the answer that he thinks I want to hear. Well, that doesn’t help us. But the issue is what if we’re about to go to an event and we are three minutes out the door, then is that the appropriate time to offer? It’s not just as black and white and cut and dry as one might imagine, but it’s not always appropriate to get every piece of advice all the time, every unsolicited opinion, but it is important to learn when to share what, and sometimes we can say something that we need not share, and it can actually really be very, very hurtful to the other person. But what if it’s something that we need to do in order to move us forward?

Amy: So I think we have to learn. I think that’s part of the element of tact that children and adults learn to use when appropriate. And I think that even asking, “Do you really want my truthful opinion here?” can help because if the boss or the parent or the child says, “You know what, actually, I just really need you to be supportive right now,” that’s different than “I really want to hear your thoughts on.”

Andy: If you see bootlicking in your family from your kids, maybe that’s a symptom that you don’t have quite an open kind of a culture in your family and that maybe you should-

Amy: It very well could be. And I think that something that I always encourage people on coaching is to really, again, look at themselves because we oftentimes are setting that stage for the behavior that comes from others. So oftentimes people mirror the way that we are.

Andy: The most popular search term that people find our website on Google is defiant teenagers. So this is definitely a hot issue for our listeners. And you have a type in here called defiers insubordinate and disrespectfully oppose established policy. So what’s going on with defiance and what is the response?

Amy: Well, when someone is defiant, they literally do not want to follow rules and they will let you know so. They do not behave appropriately. And it could be based on lack of consequence, lack of respect for the parents or the institution. And it really gets down to having a frank conversation, setting boundaries, and if necessary involving perhaps a therapist or an outside family member or friend to come in and help navigate why there is that disconnect and what to do about it.

Amy: But if that teenager is permitted to behave and to continue to behave that way, and there are no consequences, then it doesn’t make it go away. It exacerbates the situation. So something happens once. Okay. Something happens two times or five times it becomes the norm. And then parents and children get into this rut where they can’t get out. And it’s not healthy. And something has to break the cycle, and it shouldn’t be that the parent or the child breaks down or withdraws. It needs to be that there is open communication.

Andy: That’s one of the things you had in here actually. One of the strategies is let defiant workers get the gripes off their chests. I think that’s really savvy because there’s something going on. If you’re just defying everything and completely just opposing everything that I say, what’s up? They want to be heard. Somehow they have a grievance and you’re not going to solve a problem by just using more force and trying to shut them down. You need to draw it out and you need to get it out in the open so that you can talk about it.

Amy: Sure. And when you have that dialogue, then you’re able to get to the root of it. And it may be “This isn’t going to work. You’re not going to get what you want. Sorry.” Or it may be, “Oh gosh, you know what? I think if we make this little tweak, it could make a big difference.” Especially we’re not dealing with… My book is it’s focused on employees, employers, subordinates, but when we’re dealing with parents and children, these are your family. I mean, you can leave a job.

Andy: You can’t fire your kids.

Amy: That’s right. You can’t fire your kids. And so recognizing that, and I think it makes the stakes even higher, right? We want to make sure that we set the tone and that we recognize when we make a mistake. And as parents we fix it. I think that that’s something that I’ve learned from my husband being married 20 something years now. He’s very good at apologizing, but sincerely, and I really applaud that because I don’t know if I would be as eager to say, “Oh, sorry, I messed up here.”

Amy: I mean, he doesn’t go overboard with it, but if there’s a legitimate issue where he makes mistakes, he’s able to say, “I didn’t mean it that way. And I apologize that it came off in that manner and it won’t happen again.” And the fact that he can do that and openly share, hey, even to the kids, I messed up here, I think that that speaks volumes because then they’re able to do so. And we’ve seen that. Parents have come to me and said that, “My kids will just on their own say, ‘Hey, I didn’t mean for that to come off that way if it did.'” And I think too few of us are able to do that.

Andy: Given this situation that we’re in, in the world right now, that for families who find themselves trapped in a tight place with their kids or with their teenagers, and any opportunities to use this as a positive thing or any things to look out for as you kind of try to navigate these trying times, or any words of encouragement or wisdom.

Amy: Sure. I personally first off am devastated that we’re at this place as a society where we need to isolate and self quarantine. But personally, I’m sort of excited about having that special time with my family. I have a personal goal of sleep. I love to sleep. And the fact that we don’t have to get up to drive to school, I’m going to get an extra 30, 45 minutes even when school’s starting at the same time virtually.

Andy: There you go.

Amy: So I have made it a goal to have eight hours of sleep most nights. We’ll see if it happens, but that’s something that I want to do for myself. So self care is something that hopefully you can bump up a little bit and encourage your kids. I was thinking there are different things we can do depending on where your community or country is holding at the time, but we’re still permitted to walk outside. So I was thinking how beautiful it might be to go on a family walk or to even personally just go out and get some fresh air. So make sure that you do things to help yourself to feel just comfortable and make sure that you know that you’re taking care of yourself however, that looks.

Amy: But even cooking family dinners. We’re going to assign our kids different roles. Some of them enjoy different things. So one likes to cook and one prefers as we’ve spoken earlier to clean. We’ve got that going on.

Andy: There we go. Match made in heaven.

Amy: And then I have another one who loves to use Windex. So definitely we’re going to have to be cleaning up more. So we’ve got the whole package. But I think instituting something like a family game night or watching a movie together. Having that together time, but also permitting yourself to have alone time. Depending on the ages of kids in your household, it can be very noisy and it can be very overwhelming. So make sure that you take time for yourself, but make sure that you also set some, even a schedule. We’re going to have lunch together every day at this time or something so that the kids are excited to have something different.

Amy: And also if there is bickering in your house, you can talk about how that’s normal too. And it’s important to have a little bit of space sometimes. And so even establishing a code word. If you really need your own space, instead of getting upset, just either walk away or say, “Google” or whatever it is. And then that’s your word. Okay. And then you know that you can take a breather. I happen to be very clean. I take two showers a day because that is the only time when no one talks to me. I have my privacy. And I said, “I’m going to take a shower.” And my husband knows that that means I need a break from whatever chaos. I just need five minutes off. And so that might be, I mean, not that we should be wasting water, but whatever it is, whatever someone needs, establish that and recognize it and then grant them that and know that we don’t have to be perfect. I think so many parents are worried about keeping up with their kids’ academics and everybody’s going to fall behind.

Amy: And the reality is that what we can learn from everyday experiences is also very important. And if we can enhance our communication and our collaboration and work on those skills, I think, not to not to say that academics aren’t important as well, but I think that those types of interactions and even playing a game of monopoly. There are things we can do where we use our skills and we interact and communicate. I think we can grow in different ways and just use it as a time and a special opportunity to do things that we always claim we don’t have time for. Now we do.

Andy: Right. Now you’re forced to. And it’s one of those things that is such a strange thing that you’ll never forget it. And I was thinking those kinds of opportunities are, whatever you kind of end up doing during this time, it’s going to be something that your kids will remember that you’ll remember. It’ll be kind of seared in there just because it’s such a memorable thing. It’s such a crazy thing the time the world shut down.

Amy: I think we should also remember, by the way, we should reinforce that this is something that we’re doing for our community. Hopefully everyone’s household is healthy, but I mean, perhaps someone may be ill or have a version of the coronavirus. But more likely the people listening to your podcasts are those who are behaving in this way to protect the elders in the community and the people who may be more vulnerable. And I think that that’s a really important lesson about social responsibility that we need to emphasize to our kids because in today’s world where we have the iPhone and the iPad and we’re all about me, me, me, we’re not doing that now. We’re saying, “We’re going to step back for our grandparents and for the people in our community who may not be able to care for themselves.” And I think that that’s such an important lesson that our kids see that we do so not only willingly, but almost with joy, because we are able to give back to those who helped to make this country as great as it is.

About Amy Cooper Hakim

Dr. Amy founded her company on the principle that science and common business sense go hand-in-hand. As a speaker, author, and executive consultant, she helps employees and employers to get along better, and coaches leaders and employees to improve productivity, morale, satisfaction, and overall work-life balance. Her book Working With Difficult People, along with Dr. Hakim’s expertise, has been featured in The New York Times, Psychology Today, The Wall Street Journal, CNBC, and Parade to name a few!

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