Dealing with Difficult Members Part 1: Awkward, Annoying, or Rude
This is Part 1 in a 2-part series called Dealing with Difficult Members. Read part 2 here.
Oh no, it’s him again… the member who complains about everything, talks really loud on the phone and who, last week, left his dog at the office preventing you from setting the alarm and leaving until he returned at 10:30pm. Yes, that guy is making a beeline for you at this very moment.
“Can you turn that music down?! It’s 6:30pm!” the complainer exclaims, astounded at your inconsideration of his personal agenda.
You’re in the final stages of setting up an event for which you’ve spent the last 2 months planning. 200 guests are pouring through the doors, drinks are being served, and you’re corralling your expert panelists to go over the night’s agenda. The music is a normal part of every event you host and it’s not very loud, in fact you can barely hear it over the noise of the crowd.
Who can relate?
Community Managers and others who manage coworking spaces around the world deal with variations of this person every day. Whether it’s a person complaining about music at events or exploding over the single time the wifi went down in a six month period, encountering this interaction is absolutely, without a doubt, going to happen.
I’m a firm believer in this variation of an old adage: “the customer is NOT always right.” Below you’ll find short, simple ways to handle situations from inconsiderate or rude behavior toward staff, messy members, sexual harassment or the perception thereof, member abuse of policies or resources, and other tough and awkward situations you’ll need to deal with.
Inconsiderate, Rude, Messy, Annoying, Etcetera Behavior from Members
Never ever tolerate actual rudeness from members toward you or other staff. You get the respect you earn. If you let it slide, it will become harder and harder to deal with. Remember, this is your house, and your rules apply. What’s more, the member’s offensive behavior affects the entire community, bringing everybody down, and gives others permission to act similarly.
First things first. You need to employ a people-person as the main point of contact with your members (this is typically your Community Manager). They will be able to tell whether a member is being rude or is just a little socially awkward. Personally, I’ve gotten good at telling the difference, but it comes with time and experience.
The way to handle these behaviors is to let the member develop a pattern of behavior, then act to correct it. Sometimes people have bad days and they are rude without even realizing it. By letting a clear pattern develop over the course of a few weeks (if it’s this frequent it’s definitely a recurring pattern), you have a stack of evidence to point to and you can be assured that you’re not inventing a problem.
This can all be handled via email for the passive-aggressives among us. Honestly, handling it in person can come off as treating the situation as more severe than it really is. Here’s a great sample email that’s based on a real situation I handled last year:
I hope all is well with you.
I’ve received several reports from members that you often interrupt their work to talk. While a coworking space is intended to be social in some instances, it’s also about getting work done, and people’s privacy is highly valued. Especially when members have their headphones in, it is a clear sign that they are working and do not want to be disturbed.
In other instances, some of the female members have felt especially uncomfortable by this behavior. Unwanted attention by male members can be perceived as attempts at flirtation by our female members and, while I don’t believe that was your intent, the perception stands and the behavior needs to change.
As a solution, I propose that you focus on speaking with people in the common areas, when they are not working. Focus on listening more to others and, when they state they need to return to work, understand that the conversation is over. Also begin focusing on people’s non-verbal cues that indicate they are ready to leave.
I think with this adjustment in behavior, you will continue to be an incredibly valuable member of our community and I look forward to working with you for a long time!
Please reach out with any questions. I will follow up in a few weeks.
The response from the member is everything.
If the member responds in a combative way, you ought to see that as a clear sign that they are not a good fit for your community. Combative looks like: they opt out of reasonable responses to your course-correction action and instead employ overly emotional responses to either belittle you or the people involved. Don’t fool yourself, even if this ends in a somewhat amicable resolution this time, the member is on a path of self-destruction. Use your own strategic compass to decide whether to keep them or not, but in my book they need to go. More on compulsory membership termination in Part 2.
If the member responds in any apologetic way, it is safe to assume they are sincerely sorry and that they will attempt to correct course. Following up with them is key. In your follow-up you can note improvements and identify any other areas that need improvement. You’re their ally here. They want to be a fit for the community, and you should do what you can to make them feel welcome.