I have tried over the last several years to convince people to change the way they view and treat others.   Below are a couple of examples that come to mind (I could think of more if I had more time but I think these will make my point).

A person consistently expects quick responses to their questions.  Yes, its annoying because you aren’t the person who can answer the question; regardless, you are the point of contact for this person so they keep asking you for an update.

You receive an email from a person who has a history of not reading updates and does not always adhere to the policies and best practices of the organization.  They could be considered high maintenance.  Just seeing their name on a message in your inbox makes you roll your eyes.

It is easy to get self-righteous or irritated by the situations above.  In his book, To Sell Is Human, Dan Pink provides a couple of helpful insights that I think are relevant to these situations.

First, in his chapter on improvisation Mr. Pink points out that the first rule of improvisation is hearing offers.  I touched on this in a recent post.  When a person reaches out to you, for better or worse, they are making an offer.  In the case of the person expecting a quick answer it would be easy to blow them off or give them an impatient response.  But the person contacted you.  They reached out to a person who they thought could help them.  They don’t know you’ve got a million things to do and precious little time to get it done.  The truth of the matter is, the reason they are calling is because they are in the same boat you are and want to cross this off their to-do list.  Change the way you view the situation.  When a person reaches out to you, regardless of the reason, use it as an opportunity to build trust and establish a positive relationship.  In the long run the person is not likely to remember the answer you gave but they will remember how you treated them.

The second point is from his chapter titled Serve.  In this chapter he has a section titled, “Make it personal” where he discusses a study conducted on radiologists.  If you’ve ever had an X-ray, MRI, or CT scan you know that the image has to be examined by a radiologist.  These highly trained doctors often work in isolation and rarely, if ever, see the patient whose image they are viewing.  The study found that including a picture of the patient with the image significantly improved the quality of their assessment.  Apparently the presence of a picture of the patient personalized the evaluation and caused the doctor to be more thorough.

We should take a cue from this study.  We have to view that high-maintenance person who never seems to “get it” as a person with needs not as a problem.  As in the first example, this person has made an offer.  They are reaching out to someone they think can help.  If you view this contact as a disruption to your busy day from a person who should know better if they would just read what you’ve already given them your response will reflect this.

Is it a disruption? Yes.
Have you already addressed the issue?  Probably yes.
Do you have a chance to improve the person’s performance? Yes.
Do you have a chance to build trust with this person? Yes.

If you stop at the first question you are focusing on the problem and your response will reflect that.  Continue through the questions above.  Recognize there is a person submitting this request.  It will change your view and your response.