Wednesday, 27 September 2017

How To Deal With A Maddening Professional

The scenario:

My first lecture to a new group of 86 professionals in an executive MBA programme.

"Breathe…” I coax myself as I rid my face of a scowl that is slowing materializing. I look at the source of my irritation.

The offender, Ms. X, whose fixed gaze is an iota short of a glare, continues in a voice that’s resigned to see our clash to the bitter end.

"Excuse me", she mouths in a tone that stills the rest of the discussion in class, "I wasn't finished".

I take another deep breath. I then graciously apologise and wait for her to make her point. This she does in a succinct manner, devoid of any ambiguity.

My inner communicator commends her for an articulate, concise argument, despite her defensive body language and cold gaze.

Not the most likeable individual but one with a sharp mind, I note distractedly.

As I remind myself to breathe steadily and to keep my tone pleasant, I realise that handling this difficult professional would be important to how I'm perceived by the rest of the group—a set comprising 85+ executives in a packed lecture room—given that I would be required to have one-on-one coaching sessions with them at a later date.

Knowing what is at stake, I approach Ms. X. Stopping a respectable distance from her seat, I wait for a few seconds after she stops talking and ask in an even tone:

"Ok. Have you finished?"

"Yes", she sniffs, as her colleagues turn their gazes back to me.

I nod.

"That's an interesting point that Ms. X has made..." I  declare as I return to the center of the room to proceed with the lecture.

The rest of the session goes smoothly with participants engaging in an interesting debate and asking questions...

After that session, I reflected on the lecture. I had been warned that the executive batches usually consist of professionals with at least a decade of experience. In that set, most held managerial positions and many were older than me. I realised that I'd need to use a more collaborative approach to develop rapport. I also knew that their collective experience and intellect meant that I'd learn from them as the sessions became livelier.

I however noted that I'd need considerable patience dealing with Ms. X in the future.

And I was right.

A few months later, Ms. X attended her mandatory one-on-one session with me. It quickly became a tense episode. At some point, she declared in a frustrated voice that I wasn't listening to her. In response, I regrettably quipped that she was being defensive - a remark she didn't appreciate. She then made a comment that reminded me of my role as a communications coach.

She calmly explained that if I were to help her in the writing task, then I needed to understand her point of view so that I could advise on how best she could write the content for the reader to understand.

And that was the turning point.

We proceeded to dissect her piece sentence by sentence, and each time, I asked her to explain to me in the simplest terms what she wanted to say. Once I understood what she wanted to express in writing, I was able to advise on sentence structure, grammar, language, etc. to ensure that the content made sense and that her thoughts translated to a coherent document.

I also came to accept the fact that her personality was hers alone. I reckoned that although she needed some solid interpersonal skills and a good dose of emotional intelligence to be able to influence positive outcomes, it wasn't my job to change her character.

Nonetheless, I did wonder how far she'd go in her career if she continued to be abrasive, curt or disagreeable.

That was when I decided to 'insulate' myself against her anticipated criticisms. So when in another lecture some months later, she interrupted me to complain that I changed the details of a question I had asked all participants to answer, I wasn't offended. In fact, I acknowledged that indeed, I had added some complexity to the scenario to be discussed for more engaging discussions. I made no apologies for doing so.

In another session, she grumbled about not having the time to read the question that was distributed prior to the exam. In response, I handed her a printed copy of the question. Later, she whined about how she didn’t know what to do. I simply smiled. She finally settled down to write the exam. Ironically, she scored the second highest grade in that assessment.

Ms. X nevertheless taught me a few lessons that I'd henceforth use whenever dealing with a vexatious professional:

1) "Seek to understand, then to be understood".

As a speaker, coach, presenter, leader or in whatever role you find yourself, before any event, prepare for a sharp disagreement with your client or a member of the audience.

Some disagreements might not be civil. In fact, you might perceive them as personal attacks.

Resist the natural instinct to defend yourself. First, listen to what isn't being said. Behind that rude statement, grating voice or infuriating whining lies exasperation.

The offender  challenges you at every turn because he either doesn't understand the concept, or he requires more convincing. There may also be myriad reasons he has for being difficult which you're not privy to.

So look beyond whatever unpleasantness displayed and ask the simplest question so that you understand what he wants to know. Until you attempt to address the offender's concerns, you won't solve the problem.

Charm won't do it, nor will some battle of wits.

Get to the root of the problem and try to fix it. Provide context, facts and/or offer more information privately. You may or may not disarm your 'opponent' with this approach but your credibility will survive the onslaught.

And if you're wrong, admit your error, state that you're happy to learn something new and move on.

We all make mistakes. Only a fool thinks he can be right all of the time.

2) Keep your cool

Irksome people could turn a speech, presentation, lecture or an address into a disaster...if you allow them.

Preempt a verbal offensive by convincing yourself that despite whatever attack you'd face, that you won't react emotionally. This is because annoyance or distress clouds our judgement. Even the most learned among us will struggle to give an intelligent response in that state.

Whether or not the offender is the devil's spawn is irrelevant. If you cannot keep your cool, you'd lose your hard-earned reputation before the session ends. 

On the other hand, keeping a rein on your emotions allows you to be clear-headed enough to de-escalate the situation by asking the right questions so you can offer solutions.

If, despite your efforts, the offender refuses to co-operate, then “agree to disagree” and change the subject.

It will become evident to all present that he is the problem, not you.

You can't always win them all.


So I'm actually grateful to Ms. X for teaching me how to deal with a maddening professional. As a result, I'm better equipped to handle opposition.

I’ve also realised that being able to dispassionately address a volatile situation to try to find common ground, is important when dealing with conflict.

Thus, the best I can do in any testing situation is first to be open to different viewpoints. Although difficult, I should endeavour to understand other perspectives. By being open to new reasoning, I'd expand my cognitive abilities and learn new things.

Next, I should strive to keep my emotions in check when fielding off biased assumptions or deliberate digs at my credibility. I'd aim to deal with the root of the problem and I'd disregard the unpleasant symptoms.

If all else fails, I'd move on with quiet contentment that I did all I could.

And I'd live to do it again another day.

Over to you:

How did you handle a maddening professional? What did you learn from the experience?

Kindly post your comments below.

Great news!

Drum roll…

This blog, earlier this month, was selected one of the top 30 communications blogs on the web by Feedspot! Criteria for selection included Google reputation, Google search ranking, as well as the quality and consistency of the articles. Below is the badge of honour. You may already have noticed it on the homepage. So kindly spread the word in your networks. 

Awarded to Rethinking Business Communications Blog by Feedspot 

Remember that I provide customised communications coaching for individuals, groups and companies. Contact me for details if you need help. 

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First image is courtesy of Iosphere, at Second, fourth and fifth images are courtesy of Stuart Miles, at Third image is courtesy of David Castillo Dominici, at

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Perseverance - The Invaluable Tool For Successful Careers

"The most difficult thing is the decision to act. The rest is merely tenacity”.

Amelia Earhart, first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.


This post recounts a real professional journey. Read at the risk of being encouraged, inspired or prodded into action.

Perseverance is an endangered attribute in today's insatiable drive for instant gratification.

We want instant food, faster service and overnight successes.

Technology has made many things effortless. Our gadgets thus boast of lightening-fast capacities; our smart devices help us manage the 'stress' of our lives; and social media crowns regular people as celebrities in the digital age.

In all this manic rush for speedier results, at often a pitiable fraction of the required effort, we relegate the admirable tenet of perseverance to the by-gone era of slow progress. 

Nevertheless, perseverance is required for worthwhile feats. This is because not only is there justifiable satisfaction with achieving our goals by standing firm, but perseverance also does something powerful:

It builds character.

When considered alongside with passion, perseverance produces gritand grit is a predictor of success. 

This is what Angela Lee Duckworth discovered after conducting studies with students and professionals. Her enlightening TED talk below explains why we should develop grit in our academic and professional feats to succeed.


Now we know that we'd inevitably face challenges in our personal and professional lives. Setbacks, crises and tragedies may suddenly strike. While it's human to avoid unpleasant situations or to want to 'fix' problems as they occur, we should realise that sometimes, we'd be required to keep doing the right thing, over considerable time, to achieve lasting results.

In our careers, it can be frustrating when, in spite of our stellar  abilities, we don't receive job offers, nor are we rewarded with appointments that are worthy of our talents and experiences.

So, how could we remain positive and keep persevering in our efforts?

Hopefully, my personal journey recounted below, will encourage people seeking opportunities to stay the course and not to give into disappointments.

What perseverance taught me about career advancement

Years ago, I resigned from a respectable position that allowed me to gain valuable international exposure and build my skills. I needed to grow my family and since I was young, I decided that a few years away from corporateville wouldn't hurt my career.

What I couldn't have predicted would be the economic downturn in the country, triggered by the 2007-2008 global financial crisis which originated from the United States. What eventually happened was that when I was prepared to re-enter the employment pool, it became impossible to get a job.

Since I had started to develop an interest in communications, I decided to start a blog to explore this newfound passion, and proceeded to blog every month. Over the next few years, I blogged, applied for a few jobs, attended some interviews but received no offers.

Still, I continued to write, even when my articles recorded few views or when no one posted comments on my blog.

A few well-intentioned people advised me to get a job, any job, anywhere, to break the 'jinx' of being unemployed for a lengthy period. But I declined. I wanted a role related to communications and was prepared to wait for relevant vacancies.

In the meantime, given my desire to pursue a career in communications, I continued to research about the field. I spent a lot of time and effort in churning out high-quality blog posts. 

Favourable feedback from my articles was rewarding and I recorded a few 'wins' that encouraged me to continue with my blogging journey. For example, my first article was published in print and online by a reputable business newspaper in Nigeria:

Property of the Rethinking Business Communications Blog

Then my article on President Obama's first speech after the Boston bombings in 2012 was  ranked  in  first  position  on Google for a few weeks:

Property of the Rethinking Business Communications Blog

And a few years later, I landed my first consulting gig in Lagos.

I persevered and continued blogging on communications and management/workplace issues because I was interested in those themes. 

Nevertheless, I was 'unemployed' for eight years in total and had blogged monthly for the last three of those years, before the ideal job opportunity presented itself. It was a communications role at a prestigious business school and was designed to directly improve the communication skills of participants in the different MBA programmes. 

What happened after I applied for the role was unexpected.

In the first stage, I was advised to write a two-page document to specifically explain my proposed agenda for the role, as well as list my plans for coaching, evaluation and feedback. 

Having written numerous blog articles, read ample materials over the years and delivered my first communications’ consulting gig a few weeks prior to the application, I produced a convincing document. 

The next stage, the interview, was itself an experience. I was both ecstatic and terrified to have landed the opportunity to explain why I thought I was a perfect fit for the role.

I arrived at the expansive campus. With its carefully manicured lawns, superbly maintained facilities and professional staff, I immediately knew that the interview was going to be unlike anything I had experienced. 

I was briskly ushered into a room with internet access and a projector, and given 30 minutes to whip up a PowerPoint presentation on any topic. I was informed that I would give a presentation to a panel. 

Since I had no prior warning, I immediately panicked when I was left alone. I however took some deep breaths and calmed down after a few minutes. That was when I remembered that I always had my flash drive in my bag...the USB on which I had saved—as had been my habit for the last three years—all the articles that I had ever written, including images that I had collected.

The relief I felt was akin to the clouds parting and me sighting a helicopter in the distance, which quickly approached the spot where I had been stranded on a deserted island. 

It was exhilarating. 

So I  'assembled' the slides. Drawing upon everything I had learnt up until that point, I used images and less text. I also ensured that the entire presentation was short; it did not exceed seven slides, including the notes and references (some of which were links to two of my blog articles), at the end. I was then able to rehearse for the last 10-15 minutes before making the presentation. I finished with an enjoyable Q&A session with my audience. 

It became evident at the interview that my experience in blogging, my stint in consulting and my published article in print and online by a business daily, (all results from my blogging journey), were instrumental to my high scores. They also led to me being hired from the shortlist of seven (more experienced) professionals. 

All that would have been impossible if I hadn't persevered in blogging. 

I'm convinced that divine providence was at work and that I was fortunate to have landed the job. However, I also believe that the reasons below helped my good fortune: 

1) Strength of purpose

I persisted in reading content about communications. I knew I had no practical experience in the field. Given that such experience could only come from working in that segment, I read whatever materials I thought were relevant to the subject matter. The constant research gave me ideas and added depth to my articles. They also helped me develop a 'voice' online. In this digital age, having digital footprints in the topic was useful to perceptions of my relevance. 

Self-education was also vital in sustaining my interest and in expanding my knowledge. 

2) Mental toughness 

Some sincere people in my circles whom I respected couldn't understand why I was being 'picky' about the role I wanted to work in. They had valid points, such as why being away from corporateville for so long was detrimental to my chances of getting a job, and how it was advisable to get into any job first, and then network to search for something better. 

I listened and even attended a few interviews for companies I didn’t like, (more for the interviewing experience than for the roles themselves), so when I was rejected, I was actually grateful. 

I had to stay true to my convictions and even though I often felt defeated, I had faith that the ideal role would come. I was determined to be prepared when the opportunity arrived. 

And I was. 

Mental toughness is required for worthy causes and in our professional lives, we'd need a good dose of it to help us persevere. In the inspiring video below,  Navy Seal trainer, Admiral William H. McRaven, explains how we could change the world by persevering until the end in our efforts, and to even start with the mundane task of making our beds. 


While we wouldn't all desire to become Navy Seals, McRaven's advice on persevering on the right path is universally relevant. 



As professionals, perseverance is a quality that we should take seriously if we're desirous of advancement.

Let's develop grit and be clear about our professional aspirations.

Let's identify the necessary paths that will lead us to success and work to achieve our goals.

As Amelia Earhart suggested, let's make the toughest decision first, which is to act, then tenaciously prod on.

If we don't do it for ourselves, who will?

And now, over to you:

Share your account of how you persevered in your career. What advice can you give to encourage others? 

   Kindly post your comments below.

P.S - I've added a new page to this blog: Clients.  You can access it from the homepage. Kindly take a look. Remember that I provide customised communications coaching for individuals, groups and companies. Contact me for details. 

  If you need help. If you enjoyed this post, don't rush off just yet. Please remember to:

  - Share this article in your social networks by clicking on the icons at the top or below.

Sign up for updates in the blog's right sidebar so that you are immediately notified via email when a new blog post is published. Don’t miss any more articles! 

 Do you need help with improving your communication skills? 


Hire me for:

 - Communication training sessions for  your staff and executives;

Writing assignments (content creation, executive speeches, etc.);

Speeches and keynote presentations at your corporate events.

  Let me help you get results.



  Contact me:

  A) Send an email to:
  B) Call for a free consultation: 

    Nigeria:            0704 631 0592 

       International:  +234 704 631 0592 



 N:B- First and fourth images are courtesy of Stuart Miles, at Second image is courtesy of Yodiyim, at Third image is courtesy of Master Isolated Images, at Screenshots are provided by author.