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Dealing with a Two-Face

If you were Batman, this would be an easy answer. I would simply recommend you watch The Dark Knight. There are some excellent tips in there on how to balance physical and mental tactics on dealing with Harvey Dent a.k.a. Harvey Two-Face. For us non-super hero types, (or as HR likes to think, partial super hero types) we often have to deal with a workplace “two-face” sans the benefit of the Batmobile or any of Batman’s other great gadgets.

So first of all, let’s define what we are talking about here. A Two-Face is someone in your workplace, it could be a co-worker or a boss, that shows you one side of their personality when dealing with you, but when not in your presence, displays completely different tendencies. Typically, when interacting face to face with them, they are cordial, agreeable, cooperative, etc. However, overall the relationship is dysfunctional because they act the complete opposite when not in your presence. They could be spreading gossip, rumours, undermining your work/taking credit for it, or it could be the boss that gives you the line, “that wasn’t what I told you wanted.” Or possibly, you are dealing with someone whose personality seems to change each day/hour you deal with them so you never which ‘self’ you are going to get when dealing with them. So what to do?

MaliceObviously if your workplace Two-Face is your boss you have big problems. You need to get a grip on how to deal with this situation asap or your work life is going to be hell. It is not much easier if that person is a co-worker, but it is far more manageable. In the interest of providing some broad tips on how to deal with these types of people, this advice applies to both boss and co-worker type situations in general.

1. Focus on the issue, not the person – no matter how hard a Two-Face tries to turn things around on you and make it seem personal, don’t fall for it. Always keep everything on a professional level and focus on business. If you discussions stray away from business, quickly bring it back on track. As the old saying goes, if you start to roll around with the pigs, expect to get dirty. If conversations start to get into finger pointing and emotions, walk away and compose yourself before resuming discussions. If you continue to engage, you are just proving to the Two-Face that the problem is you not them.

2. Call them out – if you are getting feedback from your co-workers that leads you to believe you are dealing with a Two-Face, than call them out. Keeping the advice from #1 in mind, ask to speak with them in private and then use the “I’m confused” tactic. This personal favourite of mine goes something like this, “Hey Sally, can you help me out with something…I am confused. When we spoke yesterday I thought we had agreed that you were satisfied with the report that I gave you. I received an email from Jim with your comments in it that leads me to believe you were not happy with the report. Can you clarify for me?” This way, you have kept the conversation professional, polite and about you; however the Two-Face will get the point that you are on to their B.S.

3. Make it about the (work) outcomes – this piece of advice is handy when the Two-Face is your boss. If you constantly find that you are getting conflicting work requests from your boss, you need to get things on track with him/her by focusing on your work outcomes and how they are being negatively impacted. You need to sit down with your boss and clearly outline or clarify your goals, KPI’s and expected outcomes. Make it clear to your boss that you want to deliver exceptional performance to him/her and the best way to clear up any ambiguity is to make sure you are both aligned on what the expected outcomes are. When given an assignment (perhaps outside your regular scope) make you get a clear set of deliverables and outcomes. In essence, use the project management principle/practice of a WBS (work breakdown structure). You won’t need something this formal, but the principle of organizing work elements that define the work scope required of your assignment will go a long way in managing a Two-Face. It is pretty hard for them to turn around and show their other face when they have already agreed up front what is expected/required and that is, in fact, what you delivered! If they do, than you are dealing with a sociopath and not a Two-Face…and that is a blog post for another day!

4. Hold them accountable – in all business relationships, the person you are dealing with will also be on the hook to you for delivering something – it could be feedback, a performance review, a sign off, a decision, etc. Either way, ask them for a commitment on when you can expect to receive what it is you are looking for and them hold them to it. Nothing will erode a Two-Face’s power base like when they are held accountable for their actions. Far too often I have seen employees placate a Two-Face by working around them because they are just too painful to deal with. Unfortunately this fuels their ego and power base because they are never accountable to anyone. Don’t let that happen to you.
What have you seen? Have you dealt with a Two-Face at work? What has worked for you? As always I welcome your thoughts and feedback.

Image courtesy of rattigon/FreeDigitalPhotos.net


2 Responses

  1. Reblogged this on The Armchair HR Manager and commented:

    From the not so dusty archives

  2. Great article! Thanks for the insight, tactics and advice

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