Friday, April 20 , 2018, 6:07 pm | Fair 60º

 
 
 

Paul Burri: The Business of Prickly People

Whether an employee or employer, customer or co-worker, dealing with difficult people comes with the territory

During the course of a 60-year management career, I have had the privilege of meeting my share of prickly people. Some were business associates, some were bosses, some were vendors, some were customers, many were employees and some were relatives.

Paul Burri
Paul Burri

In most cases — although I certainly wished differently — they were people I didn’t have the luxury of “firing,” mainly for practical reasons. (Is there anyone out there who hasn’t secretly wanted to fire a mother-in-law, a brother-in-law or a key employee?)

In one instance, I owned a small company with only a few employees — each of them “key” in one way or another. One of the key employees was continually urging me to fire one of the other key employees. It certainly would have made the complainer happy, but it would have had adverse effects on the company. As the owner/manager, I had to look at the total picture rather than try to satisfy one employee at the expense of the other, but it meant having to deal with one other prickly person from time to time.

During my long career, I also encountered my share of difficult customers who could not or would not be satisfied — no matter how far we leaned over backward for them. This was in spite of our mission statement that said a lot about how much we cared for all our customers. (I guess we forgot to send him a copy, or he never read it.)

I eventually learned it was inevitable in one way or another that I was going to have to deal with a prickly person, whether it was a customer, an employee, a supplier or a relative. Worse yet, because that person was important to me for some reason, I simply didn’t have the luxury of “firing” that person. To put it a little differently, being in business meant having to deal with prickly people from time to time for the overall good of the business.

Now, fast-forward to just a few weeks ago. I know a young man who owns a small business that’s not doing as well as it could. It could be because of the recession, it could be because of the owner’s lack of business experience, it could be difficult employees, it could be poor financial experience — or it could be a combination of all those factors. It could be many other things as well.

In any case, having been in a similar business and wanting to help, I contacted this young man to offer my advice and counsel. I might add that if he were to hire a consultant for this same advice, it could cost him hundreds of dollars in consulting fees.

Refusing to deal with prickly people is a luxury that a small-business owner — especially one in trouble — enjoys at his or her peril. Apparently this particular young man has yet to learn that because a few days later, he declined my offer, saying it was because “our personalities clash.”

I learned that I’m one of those prickly people I’ve been complaining about.

— Paul Burri is an entrepreneur, inventor, columnist, engineer and iconoclast. He is not in the advertising business, but he is a small-business counselor with the Santa Barbara chapter of Counselors to America’s Small Business-SCORE. He can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through PayPal below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments.

Thank you for your vital support.


Maestro, Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover, Debit

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >