How do you deal with unbearable people?
April 18, 2010 7:59 AM   Subscribe

I am required to interact with an individual who is rude, unpleasant, and socially retarded. I can't take it anymore and don't know what to do.

I'm female, he is male, and we're both in our early 20s in the US.

This is in a small college club that is technically independent of the school but receives funding. There's a faculty adviser, us, and several other students. I don’t feel like there’s anybody "higher up" that I can go to because the group is essentially autonomous and he doesn’t seem to be violating any of our school’s policies.

He is off-putting and constantly says rude/stupid/ignorant things. He always interrupts people during meetings. (Our most pleasant, productive meetings occur when he isn’t there.) He is practically an adult version of Cartman from South Park.

From what others have told me, nobody can stand him but they've kept him around because he gets work done. And before anyone suggests, I’ve considered that he could have Asperger’s but he seems to possess enough self-awareness to apologize for various offenses but still continues his behavior.

Our club’s leader is leaving the school after this semester, and we have both applied for the top position in the club. We are the only people who have applied. His platform seems to his experience (this was his 2nd year with the club) and his ability to get things done. Mine is focused on improving our quality, and conducting outreach to other clubs and students so that we don’t have to scramble and stress ourselves out so much.

I decided if I don’t get the position, I'll resign and start an offshoot of the club.

I didn’t want to make an ultimatum like that because it feels childish to me, but I really do not want to be associated with him. He’s just here because 1) there aren’t many other members, 2) he has some specific, technical skills that are helpful to our group and 3) he has zero social life so he always does whatever he’s assigned.

In light of his alienating behavior, I don’t feel like those are good enough reasons to keep him around. I’ve worked with difficult people of all stripes in the past, but for whatever reason this feels completely new to me. All I want to do is get the hell away from this person because I can’t take anymore shit after spending an entire school year dealing with it.

Am I overreacting? How do you deal with people like this? I just can't do it anymore. I'd just quit like other people but this looks good as experience...
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Do you have enough rapport with the faculty adviser that you could very carefully discuss this?
posted by liketitanic at 8:12 AM on April 18, 2010

I decided if I don’t get the position, I'll resign and start an offshoot of the club.

I can't tell for sure if this is an actual part of your campaign platform, or a sort of open secret, or something you haven't told anybody.

In any case, though, if you're participating in this club because it looks good as experience, it's probably worth pointing out that learning to deal with unbearable people is a very good experience to have.
posted by box at 8:14 AM on April 18, 2010 [6 favorites]

We had people like that in my school's student "government" organization. Here's a breakdown of what happened.

1 - Nobody said anything about what they would do if certain people were elected. That's just stupid and forces other people to make an opinion and vote for you to keep you around rather than vote for you because you're good for the job and the organization.

2 - They let the elections happen and sat around to see how things played out. Out of a 6 person elected body, 4 people that I know of quit before the semester was over. That included me. But the thing was, we all stayed around long enough to see if things were going to work.

So let the election happen as it will without telling anyone that you'll leave if he's elected. I also realize after writing about elections that you never said that. If it's an appointed position then I think it's even more important yo keep your mouth shut about leaving.

If he gets the position, then give it a chance to actually work. If it does then you've got someone in charge who knows how to get things done. If it doesn't and he's really as bad as you say, then you'll have a lot of other people leaving with you.
posted by theichibun at 8:22 AM on April 18, 2010

If he's that much of a bore and everyone else thinks so, perhaps he won't get elected? Have you considered speaking to the faculty adviser? Perhaps that person could speak with him about his alienating behavior. As far as resigning to start an offshoot club, consider it carefully before you withdraw. Chances might be that the school won't want to fund a second club similar to an existing club, just because the leader of the first is an asshole. If that's the case and membership in this club is really valuable to you, don't give him the power to ruin your experience.
posted by motsque at 8:26 AM on April 18, 2010

I can't really tell if you are overreacting or not. My impression is "no," but then it's your version of the story, right? In some ways, it doesn't matter if you are overreacting; you find this person intolerable, and he makes an otherwise enjoyable experience less enjoyable.

So, two questions:

1) If you run and lose, you say you are going to start your own group. Since the first group is so small, how likely is this scenario? Do you think there are enough people interested in your variant on your current group to make a viable group? Also, if you do, and it succeeds, what is to stop him from joining it? Most universities have fairly stringent rules on how you can discriminate in accepting members.

2) If you run and win, what then? You will still have to deal with the guy, and you probably can't summarily eject him from the group, although, if you run meetings by a strict parliamentary form, you might get some relief from his behavior at meetings. Will the rest of the group go along with this kind of thing, or would you just cast yourself in the role of dictator. In which case, leaving earlier would probably be the better option.

You could also talk to your faculty adviser about how to handle it. That is part of his/her job. Unfortunately, you have an all-volunteer organization; people serve pretty much as they want to. I suppose you could eject this guy from your organization, but it sounds like it would be really divisive to do so. Which, in a small club, pretty much means death for the group.

In general, you will have to deal with unlikeable people on a fairly regular basis. It is an unfortunate aspect of life (heck, it's even identified as a specific source of suffering in Buddhism!) In a paid environment, you appeal to your superiors to do something. Sometimes this works, as often it doesn't. As long as a similar coworker's behavior stays behind the "termination line," you would probably be stuck with him. So, you would work to minimize contact, do as much business by email, perhaps ask to be transferred, or find a new job. A nice thing about college is that it usually ends in a fairly predictable way -- 4 or 5 years, you are out and can move on. Jobs can be a little more tricky, especially if you are tied down geographically by family or something similar.

Lastly, you need to work on letting go of your dislike for the guy when you are not dealing with him. People like this can be a massive energy suck, but it is way worse when your dislike has you up at 2am seething rather than doing something more productive.
posted by GenjiandProust at 8:28 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you are willing to resign if you lose, then you should be willing to resign now. Why wait until after the election purely for your own self-interest? Go ahead and resign now, start your own competitive offshoot, and have a win-win situation. He gets what he wants... you get what you want.
posted by netbros at 8:33 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

> He’s just here because 1) there aren’t many other members, 2) he has some specific, technical skills that are helpful to our group and 3) he has zero social life so he always does whatever he’s assigned.

Those are your interpretations, but doesn't he have a right to be there too? You tolerate him because you can use him? Can you take a more inclusive point of view?

Whatever it is your club does, he clearly contributes. At the same time he has bad habits that are rude and he sort of recognizes it but doesn't quite get it. If you can put yourself in a more friendly frame of mind and take him aside and ask him please to not interrupt people (and other specific objective things), then he may be grateful for your assistance. I think I would have appreciated that if my social retardation was operating in full force. Once it's been discussed privately, a simple, "Please don't interrupt" or "I would like to finish what I am saying" in the group context can have a lot of power.
posted by Listener at 8:43 AM on April 18, 2010 [2 favorites]

Type too slowly, nthing listener

First, I’d like to suggest that you evaluate just a little bit of your behavior, too, OP.

We do not know the other side of the story, but can this person really be reduced to a caricature of a cartoon character? “He is practically an adult version of Cartman from South Park” along with “From what others have told me, nobody can stand him but they've kept him around because he gets work done” …so you are also spending lots of time not working on the problem, but exchanging ideas with others as to how you can’t stand him. Even when you acknowledge that he has skills, you take it away with a judgment “2) he has some specific, technical skills that are helpful to our group and 3) he has zero social life so he always does whatever he’s assigned.” Trust me, someday you will have to work with people like this on a professional basis…this person could be a future boss. Step back and acknowledge that although this person doesn’t get along with you, he has positive attributes.Apologize if I have gone overboard OP, but think about these possibilities..this could be part of the problem

Do you have any friends who are really skilled at running a meeting or working with others? I have seen really skilled colleagues run a meeting with …let’s say a person who cuts people off and interrupts them. Someone who is really skilled at running the meeting can say something along the lines of “I’d like to hear your idea, [name of person interrupting], but let’s hear the other person finish their ideas, first.” The skilled colleague may also ask people who are not participating to volunteer an idea or too. I am suggesting, though, that you guys give this person some form of immediate feedback, in a polite and respectful way. It is understandable if you can’t do it, but can you bring in a friend who is really good at dealing with others? Throw in a sense of humor and it can give the person some feedback. Parts of your description sound like this guy wants to be there and wants to contribute something, although for some reason is not entirely aware of the missteps.

I also wonder if you can acknowledge the work of this person out loud. “X, you are very skilled at this task and always get it done. Can you do this for us?” If all else fails, if the intervention/feedback doesn’t work – do complement and acknowledge the person – and perhaps ask him to work on a project during the meeting. Hey! We need to do this! X you are really good at this. Do you think you could come up with some ideas? Perhaps spend ten minutes on generating ideas and we will get back with you. Be careful going this route, don’t offend the person, try to give them real things to do
posted by Wolfster at 8:55 AM on April 18, 2010

First thing you might want to do is change your way of thinking about this... you aren't "required" to do this, you choose to do this. It's a club, not a mandatory part of your program. When i first read your post I was certain this was a coworker/boss at a job..

You may find that putting it in a different light to begin with will help you work through some of the processes noted by others.
posted by HuronBob at 9:02 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

He always interrupts people during meetings.

Has he been confronted about this? What happens when a member or the faculty advisor says, "Excuse me, [Cartman], I was speaking"? I was involved in a couple student activities where someone was a socially clueless jerk and everyone hated the way he or she acted in meetings and complained about him or her, but no one said anything to him or her.
posted by Meg_Murry at 9:41 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Attend fewer meetings, do more independent projects, withdraw without quitting.

Vent, but trying to get people to pick sides openly tends to range from pointless to cruel.

Fwiw you can't rule out an autism spectrum disorder based on what you've said.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 10:00 AM on April 18, 2010

Well, I have no social abilities. I try, but I know people end up feeling uncomfortable around me. I get a lot done because I have nothing else to do. Most nights I hope I don't wake up the next morning. And it is interesting to find out that everyone probably really does hate me, but doesn't say anything.
posted by Nothing at 10:20 AM on April 18, 2010 [12 favorites]

Suggest you actually start to manage this guy and his behaviour in meetings/other social interaction and get on with whatever the purpose of your group is.

This involves applying the sort of strategies people have recommended already, i.e. actively directing conversations, acknowledging his comments but immediately reverting back to the main topics/speaker etc. If you find you're not yet good at this observe how people who are deal with people like him and start to apply these techniques.

There are plenty of people who either were not taught or just don't get social niceties and the sooner you learn to manage that kind of thing when you encounter it the easier you'll find it to go through life.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:32 AM on April 18, 2010

I am three times your age. No, I am not going to launch into, "When I was your age..." but I am going to say that I have been down this road many times before. Here's the thing: You are going to run into obnoxious people in your work environment many times and forever. Get over it. You can use this as a way to make demands, "If I don't get elected, I'll go start my own club..." or you can make this a true learning experience. If you get elected, you will get to test your leadership skills (which are not evident in your discussion above). If you lose, you have the opportunity to show how skilled you are at adapting to a bad situation and making the best of it (also not evident above).

Frankly, I don't care if he is autistic, psychotic or boorish. He is who he is and you need to either deal with the situation as it is or run away. Sometimes things don't go the way we want them to. You're going to run into this a lot over the next forty years.

You probably don't like hearing what I just said. See how you can adjust to this too. You'll get a lot more of this when you get into the corporate world.

O.K. So you need advice on how to deal with it. If you lose, ask yourself if you can effectively contribute to the goals of the club. If you feel you can, try your best to do so under his leadership without rebellion. If it doesn't work out, quit knowing that you gave it your best. If you can't contribute, quit knowing you made the right decision. Do not start a rival club. You will be seen as trying to tear down the club you left and as a poor loser. That doesn't fit well on a resume.

If you win, see if you can meet with him and the adviser and explain that you really value his skills and drive and you hope he will accept and acknowledge your leadership. Point out that the success of the club relies on working as a team and that you have certain clear expectations of him. You may be surprised what a little respect for each other will do.
posted by Old Geezer at 10:53 AM on April 18, 2010 [11 favorites]

is this person aware of how he comes across? does he know how he makes you feel? it's easy to not see it yourself when you rub someone else the wrong way (I've been there myself and only realized I had to approach someone differently after a third person told me).

I think there are two possibilities: either he really does not care - that would make him a sociopath to me - or he doesn't realize how he makes you feel. he sounds insecure, so I have some hope it might be the latter.

I'd be curious if you could work up the guts to have a non-confrontational but frank conversation with him alone. let him know that it's not okay, let him know how it feels to be told certain things and ask him to stop specific behaviors. be specific but never threaten consequences. your goal is not to antagonize him but to pull him onto your side. make him feel like you are with him in this club. you described him as someone with a sense of duty, so I assume he'd be loyal to those he perceives as helping and being loyal to him.

not talking to him is kind of passive aggressive. I understand why communications with such an individual would be difficult but that or leaving is the only way I could see a solution being reached without a massive and ugly explosion.
posted by krautland at 11:00 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I forgot: drop the cartman metaphor pronto. that's exactly the kind of antagonizing talk that will cause him to see you as the root of all evil that needs to be defeated.
posted by krautland at 11:03 AM on April 18, 2010

Learning how to chair a meeting properly would be a useful skill here. A look at Robert's Rules of Order would be helpful.
posted by ovvl at 11:07 AM on April 18, 2010

Surprisingly, such people, down the road, somehow end up rather successful in life.

You hit one one point - he gets stuff done. Getting things done is more important than discourse about right and wrong, rude or not.

It's school - use the experience to learn what you can, in whatever way you want - the advice everyone here is giving is good.

My only advice is to stop thinking in terms of "fairness" (if you are, I'm making an assumption therE) and/or that there is a higher power who should "right" things. In the real world there often isn't, and even when there is someone with the power to right things, they won't - because results matter, not principles.

So take it as a great learning example.
posted by TravellingDen at 11:30 AM on April 18, 2010

The thing is you call him "socially retarded" and want to diagnose him with Asperger's, this generation's by-word for "psycho" or "crazy." Both are pretty immature and tasteless ways to talk about a person you don't like. If the other students share your opinions of this guy, he won't win the election, will he? If he does win, consider that a sign that you need to reassess how you work with others.

For the love of god, don't start a rival organization-- how are you going to get funding? Who's going to be your mentor? I can guarantee you that the faculty would not appreciate having to manage feuding clubs. Of course, you could talk to the faculty advisor about this guy, but I seriously doubt they'd want to get involved in what, from your question, appears to be a personality conflict. Besides, the faculty advisor no doubt already has set opinions of you and Cartman, and you might be surprised and disappointed to discover what they are.

I'd let the election play itself out and, like others said, see this conflict as a learning experience about negotiating adult relationships. I am professor but not your professor.
posted by vincele at 11:31 AM on April 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

I know you're just venting here, but the long-term solution is to stop demonizing him and start being the bigger, more socially skilled person. That'll help you win and help more get done in the meantime. I can't tell, but it sounds like now you're putting up with something you dislike, getting frustrated, and talking behind his back. Instead, why not recognize his contributions, find a way to channel them productively, and "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all" (or if anything, maybe a rare snide joke in private settings among those who you know share your frustrations). This is basically what koahiatamadl and ovvl said:

-- (koahiatamadl) Suggest you actually start to manage this guy and his behaviour in meetings/other social interaction and get on with whatever the purpose of your group is.

-- (ovvl) Learning how to chair a meeting properly would be a useful skill here.
posted by salvia at 2:36 PM on April 18, 2010

Every committee and group I have been in has someone like this. I usually do not stay. I think that in a lot of groups the "nice" people leave and the assholes stay. I don't think this is right, but it has been my experience. Same will volunteering. I must be doing something wrong. If the group means a lot to you, stay and try to force the idiot to behave or leave, or learn to deal with him.
posted by fifilaru at 3:18 PM on April 18, 2010

Calling someone "socially retarded" suggests that you're not very mature yourself. That's OK! You're still in college, and a big part of college is learning how to grow up and interact with people. Especially when those people drive you nuts. If you're really good at people, take this guy under your wing and tell him how much he's driving people nuts.

Ask him out to coffee to talk about the club, and tell him something like, "I can tell that you're a nice guy and everyone really appreciates how much you put into the club, but some of the ways you're interacting are making people annoyed with you. You're really valuable to the club, and we don't want to lose you. Can we talk about a few little things that would make everything go smoother?" It's really important that you mean all of that sincerely when you say it. Otherwise, you're going to come off as a Mean Girl, and he'll get defensive (rightly so!) and not want to talk to you.

One of the skills that has served me incredibly well in life is learning to pay attention to people's good qualities and completely 100% ignore their bad ones. Be aware of them in case you need to take them into account, but totally ignore them in terms of how you think about them in your head. Understand that lots and lots of people don't have social graces, and that it's completely not their choice. Everyone would choose to be charming and affable and have everyone like them if it were as simple as making a choice. Instead, it's a freaking hard skill to master if you weren't born with it. Those of us who need to learn it are beholden to the people around us who are willing to give us pointers about where we're fucking up.

For your own peace of mind, take "socially retarded" out of your mental vocabulary. Stop putting people into nice neat little categories and dismissing them. Treat every last person you meet with respect and understand that nearly to a person, they're doing the absolute best they can. When you put people into boxes, you never give them a chance to surprise and delight you. When you treat people like individuals, they have space to grow and evolve in your mind and that's a wonderful wonderful way to live your life. Leave everyone happier than you met them - especially this guy.
posted by stoneweaver at 5:55 PM on April 18, 2010 [4 favorites]

You're really valuable to the club, and we don't want to lose you.

I like stoneweaver's advice but I would reframe this sentence since it implied a threat. And doesn't he have a right to be there as much as you do?

His useful attributes sound like they outweigh his negative ones. If there is any way to utilize his abilities without sabotaging the whole team, you'd be fool to discard him, even if you gained the power to do so.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:28 PM on April 19, 2010

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