Difficult People

Dear Management Doctor:

I am seeking advice on how to deal with a difficult person. This person is a developer within the community that I work and pushed to have himself appointed to the P&Z C. His attitude as a customer and now as a Commissioner is when he yells jump; I should ask "how high?" There is nothing that I can do to make this person happy. My office does not have sufficient staff to provide immediate service. I am viewed by him as an obstruction and that I have a personal vendetta against him. I am only trying to do my job.

Can you provide any insight on this matter?

Thank you,

An East Coast City

Dear East Coast City,

It is not unusual as a planner that you have to work with SOBs in a planning commission or even in city council. During my 25 years as a planner, I tried very hard to change these people. What was my success rate? Zero! So, my first advice is to ask yourself what you can do to work better with that person. It is hard to be specific without knowing the actual person. However, here are a few things to try:

  • Try to determine the person's personality as well as your own. This can give you some clues as to how to best approach that personality as well as how you normally operate. In this case, you need to adjust and not expect the planning commissioner to adjust.
  • Try to find out who the commissioner’s boss interpreters are. They are people who the boss listens to and who often speak for the boss. They can be used to understand and to influence the commissioner.
  • Controlling a member of the planning commission is often best accomplished by the chairman of the commission, and in worst case scenarios by the mayor or city manager.
  • Find a way to get the commission to revisit their rules, or if they don’t have rules, find a way for them to introduce the topic. Get one of the commissioners to do this, not you. The rules should make it clear that you are not to take directives from just one member of the commission. Additionally, make certain the commission has good ethics rules. It sounds like he may violate them.
  • Check the state laws on ethics and conflict of interest. If he is violating them, a City Attorney may have to intervene.
  • I believe every planning director needs to work to build constituents in the community for good planning. Let some of these constituents help work on the issue.
Good luck and let me know how it goes.

The Management Doctor