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Stew Cues: Managing difficult people tricky task

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Stew Cues: by Alene Keenan

After a hectic holiday charter run, heads of departments take time to assess the relationships among their team. Managing different personalities is a juggling act. Not everyone gets along. Some people are more high-maintenance than others, and there are cultural, generational and age differences. More than one chief stew, myself included, has been heard to exclaim, “If one more young whippersnapper tells me how to do my job, I am going to blow a gasket.” Perhaps we have officially entered Old Age.

Another culprit that senior crew complain about are those with “Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome.” Paul Crosby writes in his blog on The Uncommon League website that management styles may need to change to accommodate such a person and to manage the resulting toxic work environment. 

Whether actually highly intelligent or just someone with an inflated ego, these people often come across as loud and impolite. They seem to have a need to be right, to have the last word and to feel superior to others. The negative impression they create in one department carries over into other areas, and sometimes it takes enormous effort to deal with the situation. 

In his blog, Crosby shares a list from executive coach Jeff Snyder of traits that people who have “Smartest Person in the Room Syndrome” exhibit, so managers can identify these team members and better understand their perspectives:

  • They talk more than they listen.
  • They don’t consider other points of view.
  • They have a constant need to be right.
  • They give their opinion even when not asked for it.
  • They are often unteachable or unwilling to learn.
  • They have low levels of emotional intelligence.
  • They also may not want to push themselves as much as they should.

This can create a toxic and frustrating work environment for the rest of the team. Working together for days and weeks on end is hard enough, but living together with someone who doesn’t fit in adds even more pressure to an already stressful circumstance. 

As the head of a department, supervisors are obligated to give feedback to those under their charge. Whether it’s a personality disorder or poor social skills, the inability to be a team player can have a negative effect on a person’s career over the long run. Problem crew need to be evaluated and consider options to determine whether or not they have any desire to improve behavior or habits. 

It’s a delicate situation, but certain behaviors that need improvement ought to be discussed. Whether there is a cultural distinction or an age difference, people deserve to know that they are not fitting in. There might be a weakness that they have encountered before, and they might actually appreciate support in a desire to improve social skills. 

In an ideal world, people value personal as well as professional growth. However, when mistakes are made, some people don’t even realize it because of their customary high opinion of themselves. In that case, performance suffers while the ego continues to grow. 

Supporting crew through change can help them be more open-minded and better listeners. Avoid a tendency to exert control by micro-managing during this period. When everyone on the team feels more comfortable, the entire culture of the workplace may change. 

Here are some great tips I found on Wikipedia: 

  • The common denominator in this situation is respect. A positive attitude goes a long way, so try to be understanding. Keep an open mind and remember that you don’t have to agree with someone, simply acknowledge them. Don’t take things personally. 
  • Pick your battles. Think before you respond in exchanges that are heating up. Not every situation needs to be addressed. Relax and take a deep breath. Try to see people as the individuals they are, whatever their age. After all, those young whippersnappers undoubtedly have a few things to say about the “senior citizens” they have to work with too. 

Alene Keenan is former lead instructor of interior courses at Maritime Professional Training in Fort Lauderdale. She shares more than 20 years experience as a stew in her book, “The Yacht Guru’s Bible: The Service Manual for Every Yacht,” available at yachtstewsolutions.com. Comments are welcome below.

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