10 People Who Suck

Q&A With The Authors:
Ryan Powers & Michael Wissot

What prompted you to write The 10 People Who Suck?

We spent years working for and advising companies of all sizes across every known industry. Whenever someone ranted about another team member, it seemed as if the same poisonous personalities were causing the majority of anguish and, consequently, disrupting the flow and potential of the organization. Admittedly, we’ve always had trouble ignoring the fact that organizations can and should strive higher. So, we felt compelled to not only identify the most problematic office personalities, but also to genuinely prescribe ways to overcome conflict at work.
Yes, we’re all entitled to vent our frustrations about the 10 People Who Suck. But we also have a duty - to our organizations, to our colleagues and to ourselves - to do something about it.

What makes The 10 People Who Suck resonate with anyone in the workplace?

These people are like weeds – they grow everywhere, and they affect everyone. But the reason why people like this book is that we all need to feel like we’re not the only ones experiencing these problems at work. The book provides a great release of tension, as well as hope that things can and will improve.

The title itself suggests a potentially sour tone toward these people. How do you remind readers otherwise?

The title is sour because the behavior of the 10 People Who Suck is quite sour. Honesty gives this book its uniqueness. We don’t avoid the tough issues that many organizations either overlook or cannot resolve with conventional tactics. Part of the reason why readers are frustrated when working with the 10 People Who Suck is that they don’t see a practical solution at their disposal. We keep a positive tone throughout the book, in order to remind readers that progress can be made with any of these office misfits.

Who is guiltier of behaving as one of the 10 People Who Suck – managers or employees?

They are equally culpable. The 10 People Who Suck are found at all levels of an organization. Some personalities may be more prevalent at the manager or employee level, respectively. But the real challenge is to focus on the actual behavior, regardless of the culprit, so that you are better prepared in similar conflicts. As a corollary, police officers are trained to apprehend criminals, not how to presuppose which civilians may or may not commit crimes.

How much of a role does self-awareness play in this equation, and how do employees in particular confront their managers/supervisors who may be one of the 10 People Who Suck?

Self awareness is a core lesson to take from this book. If you cannot recognize your own contributions to a conflict, then you cannot possibly be equipped to resolve one. Of course, not every manager or supervisor cares enough to honestly make this personal assessment. So, it’s inherently difficult for employees to get their bosses to resist destructive behavior. That’s why we have proposed certain problem-solving techniques that can be applied in a non-threatening, win-win manner.

Did you personally identify with any of The10 People Who Suck – qualities that you saw in others or even yourself?

Absolutely. We could not have written this book if we had not encountered these individuals directly, as well as embodied some of these traits ourselves, at times. We hope that readers will come to the same conclusion. The first connection to this book may prompt a reader to think of everyone who has wronged them in some way. Upon deeper reflection, it will hopefully spur a self analysis that instills greater empathy toward others. Contrary to what some may think, it is the latter stage that will truly make someone happier and more effective in their jobs.

You introduce some innovative concepts and techniques for engaging the 10 People Who Suck. But wouldn’t it be easier for those people to simply leave the company?

There is an important difference between the small percentage of employees who are beyond help – either by their own choice or the organization’s – and the vast majority of employees. The 10 People Who Suck are not without ability or value to the organization. In many cases, they are some of the best producers. The damage they inflict is often less apparent and intentional than the smaller percentage of employees who should clearly leave the organization. We’re addressing how to improve communication with the people who are not only likely to remain with the organization, but who probably should remain with the organization.

In general, what percentage of an organization comprises the 10 People Who Suck?

The answer is more subjective in nature. One person’s favorite colleague may be another person’s arch nemesis. Regardless of how many people suck, it is incumbent upon all of us to lesson the prevalence at work. The goal of an organization is not for all of its employees to get along, rather to be successful. However, both components are critical to each other. If you can improve office communication, your chances for organizational success are exponentially higher.

How do you respond to the CEO who says that the shortcomings of the 10 People are inevitable, and that organizations often survive despite such behavior?

Compare the minimal time and effort required to apply our techniques to the staggering costs of turnover or low productivity. Some leaders would suggest that their organizations are thriving, despite such internal dissension. But how much better could they be doing if employees knew how to reduce conflict more expeditiously and effectively? We’re talking about nominal investments that can potentially deliver unprecedented returns.

What are you hoping that your readers take away from this book?
If you learn to prevent the problems that you once thought were inescapable, then you may very well achieve what you once thought was unimaginable.

Ryan Powers and Michael Wissot are managing general partners of SymAction Communications, serving as communication consultants and focus group moderators to several Fortune 500 companies.