Five Tips for Dealing With Flaky People

Flakiness is a wonderful quality in a pie crust — but as we all know, annoying as all get out when it comes to people!  And yet, as many of our clients have reported in recent years, there seems to be a “flakiness epidemic” going on out there where good friends and acquaintances fail to deliver on promised favors or to follow through on various referrals, leads, and other commitments that have been made.

Can we blame them for this unprofessional and inconsistent behavior?  Sure we can, although it’s not likely to get us anywhere, since getting angry and upset isn’t going to solve the problem or get us anywhere.  Like most things, too, we each probably demonstrate more flakiness ourselves, at times, then we’d care to admit.  So instead of taking it personally, job hunters need to adopt more effective strategies for getting people off the commode and getting them to “deliver the goods” in terms of promised referrals and the like.  The top five tips we’d have in this regard, in fact, are:

1)  Don’t use negative emotions for leverage. As tempting as it might be, never attempt to coerce your contacts using guilt, shame, or other punitive emotional manipulation.   Not only does this approach rarely work, but you could end up permanently damaging the relationship and then getting NO help, whatsoever, down the road!  So when you call or e-mail people to follow-up, be unfailingly polite, upbeat, and enthusiastic.  Resist the urge to take a shot at the person, emotionally, unless it’s somebody you know well enough that you can perhaps get away with a tiny bit of gentle nagging or teasing…

2)  Always give people the benefit of the doubt.
Given the emotional ups-and-downs of the job search process, many professionals going through job transition get hyper-sensitive to what they perceive to be disrespectful silences or “broken promises” from people in their network.  Remember, however, that most working folks aren’t going to have as much free time on their hands at the moment as you do, so their priority list and timelines might be quite different than your own.  Keep in mind, also, that accidents happen — and how bad you’ll likely feel if you get all worked up, cursing somebody’s name, and it turns out your contact had a medical incident or an unexpected emergency!!

** Special Addendum:  On a related note to item #2, we recently had a client go through what seemed to be a fantastic interview for a job he really wanted, and yet the hiring manager failed to follow up at the promised time and no further communication had been received from the company a week later.  Not surprisingly, our client was feeling quite depressed over this, as well as angry, given that strong verbal assurances had been made and then hadn’t resulted in further action.  Our advice?  Give the company the benefit of the doubt and call them, politely, to check in and see where things stood.  When he did this, he found out (much to his pleasant surprise) that the delay was due to a simple miscommunication.  The hiring manager had told his HR department to extend an offer to our client, but this hadn’t happened due to some minor internal process issue or breakdown.  So as soon as our client got back in touch, and checked back in, the company realized their error, apologized profusely, and scrambled immediately to get the offer in his hands and to hire him!  Just think what would have happened if he hadn’t followed up — or had allowed anger or other accusatory language to infuse his phone call?

3)  Give the person a graceful way out. Perhaps I’m old-school about this, but when somebody promises to do me a favor and then fails to follow through right away, I usually follow up, but give them permission to back out of their commitment without any hard feelings, just in case they overcommitted themselves or decided the favor wouldn’t actually be appropriate.  In most cases, this ultra-polite approach to things compels people to get re-engaged in providing the initial assistance, fairly quickly!

4)  Help them do you the favor, however possible. Sometimes, the thing that gums up and prevents a referral from happening is just a tiny bit of inertia at the beginning of the process, in terms of getting the ball rolling.  So when following up with somebody about a promised action, consider suggesting some ways in which you help push the favor forward, yourself.  You might offer, for example, to draft an introductory letter or e-mail on the person’s behalf — or possibly to contact the third-party in question directly, using your contact’s name as the reference point.  Suggesting creative ways you can lighten the load of the person in the middle, however, usually helps get things “unstuck” and moving forward…

5)  Make them feel good about helping you. Remember, at the end of the day, the underlying reason most people do favors for people in the first place is to feel good about themselves — and to reinforce their image of themselves as nice, well-intentioned, helpful human beings.  So throughout the entire networking process, make sure to reinforce these needs by thanking people profusely, at all times, and by following up when favors are granted to make sure your acquaintance gets to “bask in the win” and will be highly motivated to grant you additional favors, in the future!

At the end of the day, this entire topic reminds me of one of my favorite quotes of all time, which was when the father of some forgotten television sitcom tells his teenage son: “Boy, you’ve got to figure out what you want in this world and then start the fight to get there.”  When it comes to dealing with flaky people in the job search process, you have to demonstrate this same stubborn willingness to fight for what you want — using diplomacy, however, instead of anger or blame.

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5 Responses to “Five Tips for Dealing With Flaky People”

  1. I never give someone the benifit of the doubt more than once, unless it’s someone who I know very well and who I know isn’t the type to flake. If someone flakes once, they’ve shown to me that they’re unreliable, and flakes usually reveal that right of the bat (in my experiences, anway). I definitely don’t think you should be so nice and accomodating to them to allow them to believe they didn’t do anything wrong. I truthfully can’t stand people who flake. It’s rude and annoying and definitely inconvenient.

  2. Sometimes the best approach I’ve found is to flake out on them and see how they like it. They’re relying on you to always be there waiting for them so the moment you flake out on them, it forces them to get their act together. It’s like a spoiled child that has never been punished for bad behavior. Eventually they grow up thinking they can have whatever they want without having to work for it and that is exactly how flaky people are. Perhaps they’ve never had someone flake out on them so they wouldn’t know what it’s like being lied to. Sure there are exceptions but talk is cheap. Work is expensive.

  3. I’ve dealt with lots and lots of flaky people over the years. I can handle a certain level of flakiness, since unexpected problems crop up and such. But after the third of fourth round of continued flakiness, I usually cut my losses and walk away from the friendship. If I was important to them, they would make the time and effort to show up or follow through on promises, not make eternal excuses. If its a business deal, I show even less leeway – I’ll usually try to track down the reason why I haven’t heard anything, but if the potential associate or their staff doesn’t respond with an adequate answer or in a timely manner, I simply assume that they aren’t interested and move on. Flakiness is just another way of saying ‘disrespectful’, ‘disinterested’ and ‘distrustworthy’. I don’t have time in my life for perpetual flakes – life is too short to waste it hoping these twits will follow through on everything they promise.

  4. Good article. I think it’s always great to give people the benefit of the doubt and recover if there was a small bump in the road. Though reasonably diplomacy has it’s limits. If someone is consistently flaking out and holding events hostage, being polite won’t change that. It’s also a job of professional not to spread bad clients around.

    If people keep being nice or accommodate flakes, why would they change? It just enables them to do it more and creates toxic relationships.

  5. I just had a friend cancel on an important camping trip and it’s got me all kinds of pissed. So, I googled “flaky friends”… read on dealing with such persons, and I found this blog. I’m glad I read it… it really helps vengeful/manipulative people like myself rise above the occasion. ;)

    – Josh

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