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How to Best Deal with Difficult People at Work AKA The Circus Bear


How to Best Deal with Difficult People at Work AKA The Circus Bear

The Circus Bear is by far our favorite difficult person! A good time, fun loving, hilarious – but they do next to nothing.

We all know someone in the office that is the Circus Bear. These cheerful folks love to laugh and talk for hours about all sorts of random things and they seem to have a sixth sense in knowing when they are going to be asked for a deliverable.

They are always the first to suggest happy hour and rely on their friendly demeanor to build business relationships that are based on, well, a hell of a lot of fun.

These good time Charlies and so fun Sallies put as many pennies as possible into each of our political banks and then count on us not to expect them to work. Or, at a minimum, they hope we will do some of their share of the work and not give them a hard time about it. 

Circus Bears build an invisible shield of friendliness and fun and have a history of doing just enough to stay employed. We all look the other way when they don’t produce because they are such fun people.  

Sadly we don’t hold them accountable—and we should

We have both worked with Circus Bears that have said, “But I couldn’t get that done because we all went to Rock Bottom for beers last night.”  And by now you know we are always up for a pint—but we also deliver results and the get the job done.

After all, we’re at work and collecting a paycheck. Which is why we need to find ways to hold the Circus Bear accountable.

Despite the fact that we like them, Circus Bears can be very frustrating to work with. You can count on them for a good time but you can’t count on them to meet deadlines or even do their share of the work.

It creates a weird workplace dynamic where people are passively angry with the fun guy in the office. For those who don’t work closely with the Circus Bear they don’t understand and may chide you for being tough on the loveable bear. For others it’s a strange calculation about what’s more important: enjoying an entertaining co-worker or pushing back on bad behavior.

It’s not easy to draw the line with someone you like and have fun with – it’s actually really, really difficult. Which is why we consider the Circus Bear a Difficult Person.


When the boss is played

Even more difficult is when the Circus Bear co-opts your boss. Your boss gives the Circus Bear an assignment and it is such poor quality that your boss comes to you to re-do it, or re-write it.

The boss doesn’t want to have “the talk” with the Circus Bear because they are drinking buddies or they golf together.  So there you are. Sitting in the middle of his mess.

Needless to say, the Circus Bear can really screw up team dynamics which is why you need to put up some railings—even padded ones—around the Circus Bear’s arena.


Five tips to hold the Circus Bear accountable  

  1. Don’t catch the hot potato. The Circus Bear is counting on you and others to pick up his/her slack. Make it clear that you cannot, or will not, be able to take on his/her responsibilities.

  2. Be sure to provide crystal clear direction from the outset. “So Charlie, we’ve agreed that you will have the analysis completed and forwarded to me by Tuesday at Noon, and I will put the analysis into the marketing deck by close of business Friday.”

  3. Do not allow the Circus Bear an out.  Hold them to the deliverable. You must follow up and may have to do so many times.

  4. Put it in writing. If you’ve heard it from us once you’ll hear it a thousand times – because it works.

  5. Be consistent. The Circus Bear will continue to operate in his/her usual manner if given the opportunity. Don’t be lulled into thinking one success is going to result in permanent change – hold him/her accountable every time.

You do not have to push the Circus Bear away and out of your social circle to implement these steps – especially if you enjoy his/her company.

Simply understanding the dynamics at play – recognizing that the Circus Bear has filled your political bank with pennies and not $100 bills – is a good reminder when you begin to hold them accountable.

After all, pints at Rock Bottom are relatively cheap in comparison.  You can even buy the next round.

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