Dealing with Difficult People: The Bob Principle

One of the most difficult tasks for a manager is to identify and deal with problem employees. As a manager, you might have to deal with your employees coming up to you and complaining about various issues. It is very important however that you scrutinize every complaint that comes to you and not get fooled by “The Bob Principle.” “The Bob Principle” as author John C. Maxwell mentions in his book Winning with People is that when Bob has a problem with everyone, Bob is usually the problem.

Have you ever known a person who had problems follow him wherever he went? That seemed to be the case with Billy Martin. When he got called up to the Yankees in 1950 as a second baseman, he was joining one of the best baseball teams of all time. And Martin held his own. He performed especially well during the World Series games and was named Series’ MVP in 1953. While he was with the Yankees as a player (1950-57), the only year they did not win the series was 1954, the year Martin was in the army.

But despite his success, Martin’s life was never smooth sailing. The problem was that he often seemed to have a hard time getting along with people. The reason he left the Yankees after seven seasons is that he was traded following a big fight in a night club involving other Yankees players. After Martin left the Yankees, he played for six other teams in four years. He retired in 1961 and went on to coach. In 1969 he became a manager. But everywhere he went, trouble followed. He was legendary for the fistfights he started.

The fights and insobriety continued into his managerial career. In 1969 during his tenure as manager of the Minnesota Twins, he beat up his star pitcher Dave Boswell and was fired. In 1974 with the Texas Rangers, he popped the team’s 64 year old travelling secretary in a fight over a proposed club for the team’s wives. Hired back as manager of the Yankees in 1977, he took the team to a world title, but was, at one point, seen battling with Reggie Jackson in the dugout during a nationally televised game, and was again relieved of his position.

The early eighties were the usual for Martin. Hired, fired, and rehired by the Yankees again, Martin drank and brawled his way out of every job he ever had. His teams almost always won, but the price of living with Martin was too much. Martin was continually ejected from games and often suspended for his treatment of umpires. And he didn’t get along with the owners of the teams that employed him either.

Billy is the perfect example of the Bob principle. If Bob has a problem with Bill, and Bob has problems with Fred, and Bob has problems with Sue, and Bob has problems with Jane, and Bob has problems with Sam, then Bob is usually the problem. Quiet often, Bob will create a toxic environment in the workplace. It is important for you to decide whether such a person is really worth having in your office.

When a negative person like Bob tries to drop a problem in your lap, respond with something positive. If the comment is about a situation, try to find a bright side. If it’s about a person, point out a positive trait you’ve observed. Anytime a person’s motives are being critiqued, the best thing is to give him the benefit of the doubt. No one should presume to know the heart of another person. Believe the best in others and express that belief, unless the individuals prove otherwise to you personally.

Not everyone will respond positively to your suggestions. But if you have a strong connection with Bob or you are in a position of authority with him, then ask him to THINK before he speaks. But finally if everything is lost and you supervise one or more Bobs – and you can’t or don’t want to remove them from your team – then do damage control by isolating them. Don’t let the negativism spread.

Source: Winning with People, by John C. Maxwell