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How to Deal With Difficult People: The Squirrel


How to Deal With Difficult People: The Squirrel

No one is more entertaining to watch than the Squirrel: burying nuts in the office only to forget their secret location! Fun to watch, yes—damaging to the business and morale, absolutely.

We have both experienced the Squirrel! many times throughout our careers and we’ve concluded they typically are well intended but don’t realize the havoc they create. In their minds they are doing great work, multi-tasking and moving the business forward. In reality, they slow everything down.

A treasure hunt should be fun, right?

The Squirrel! darts from item to item, is disjointed and does not finish the job he or she starts. These unfinished jobs are the “buried nuts” they’ve peppered throughout the office.

Many times it takes is just one more action item to complete the task, but the Squirrel! gets easily distracted and jumps to the next acorn. And sadly it is the rest of us that must pick up the slack to find the nut and get the job done.

And while we love a good treasure hunt, we believe that they belong in pirate movies and should not be part of the workplace. When you have to retrace steps, dig through a trail of various items, all of which are incomplete, in order to move north – you’re wasting time, resources and money. The chaos the Squirrel! creates frustrates teammates as they attempt to put the pieces into place, thereby pulling the team down and damaging morale.

Did you get my email?

The Squirrel! means well but the execution is far from optimal. He or she favors doing many things instead of doing one thing well, darting from one item to the next, creating many open items that linger. The Squirrel! doesn’t seem to realize that activity is different from execution and in the process makes everything  more difficult for the rest of us.

A telltale sign of the Squirrel! is the classic, “Did you get my email?” query. This is nearly always a drive-by conversation and you’re really not sure which, of the dozens of emails received, he or she is talking about.

Our personal favorite is when the Squirrel! sends a cryptic one line email you can’t decipher, or an email with only an attachment and no associated narrative to provide context. You then realize that the email is a clue to finding the acorn you are bound to discover that requires follow-up to close the loop and get the job done.

Communicate the issues

The key to working effectively with the Squirrel! is communication – plain and simple. He or she needs to understand that the inability to stay focused is causing damage to the team. And in our experience, the Squirrel! wants to contribute and create success for the team and the company.

Addressing the Squirrel! directly is the best approach. Have a meeting and explain how work items that are left open or unfinished are disruptive, waste the team’s time, and kill morale. Gather examples from teammates who were forced to search for acorns hidden around the office, and use these examples to help the Squirrel! understand how others are directly affected by the lack of focus.  The Squirrel! means well, but just needs to be reminded to store the nuts in one “well organized” place.

It may be a difficult conversation, but if you prepare for it the chances of success will be greater. Read our post Difficult conversations: 5 tips to handle them like a pro to get ready.

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