Rob and Don share stories and examples of difficult work relationships, why they’re difficult, and what they learned from these experiences. Link to episode transcript.
Rob Broadfoot 0:21
All right, everybody, Episode 55. We’re back, and Rob’s back.
Don Mock 0:24
The band is back together, Don and Rob.
Rob Broadfoot 0:26
Don Mock 0:28
All right, so I’m watching TV last night, Rob, and I’m watching the fantastic show on HBO secession.
Rob Broadfoot 0:35
Don Mock 0:37
And the thought occurs to me- this is not a newsflash for anybody who’s watching the show- but everyone in that show is pretty bad. They’re all awful, right? In the show, we’re in the final season, we’re wrapping up. It’s an interesting show in that, we’re watching this, but everyone is creepy and bad and awful, to a certain extent, right? There’s only a couple people that have provided some, like, comedic relief. The rest of it, we’re not really necessarily cheering for anyone, right? Like, “oh, yeah I want this person to succeed or good things. It’s like bad people kind of running around doing bad things.
Rob Broadfoot 1:12
Are they all bad in the same way, or they’re all bad in their own unique, special ways?
Don Mock 1:17
The latter. They’re all bad in their own special, unique ways. And difficult. I mean, it’s a great show. And very enjoyable, I think you have to kind of be in the right headspace to start watching that show. Because it is kind of intense, and it’s not necessarily like, Oh, here’s a light-hearted comedy to put me at the end of the day.
Rob Broadfoot 1:36
Is is like a House of Cards kind of mood.
Don Mock 1:39
Yeah, it’s gotta-
Rob Broadfoot 1:39
You gotta be focused and engaged.
Don Mock 1:41
Yeah, yeah, it’s got to be a vibe. And there’s definitely something to, are we cheering for their demise? Or are we trying to pick who’s going to win the race? It is kind of interesting, it’s very well scripted, very well performed, all that good stuff. But it got me thinking about the concept of maybe working with difficult people as a topic for today’s podcast, right?
Rob Broadfoot 2:03
Yep. We’ve all been there. Yeah.
Don Mock 2:05
Not necessarily awful. Like, oh, my God, these people are terrible. But just difficult people. Now those people could be coworkers?
Rob Broadfoot 2:12
You know, maybe we’re the difficult ones…
Don Mock 2:14
Well, we need to put this on YouTube, because everyone should see your face. When you make that face.
Rob Broadfoot 2:20
Don Mock 2:20
Yeah, I mean, co workers, your boss. Our boss would be clients. You know, things like that. Just sort of the concept of working with difficult people, and how do we sort of navigate that? I think that clearly transcends advertising and design and kind of goes all over the darn place.
Rob Broadfoot 2:38
Everybody’s been there in some form or fashion, no matter what industry you’re in. If you’ve held down a job, you’ve run into working with difficult people in some regard.
Don Mock 2:47
Absolutely. Absolutely. Any thoughts coming to mind right off the-? I know, I’m kind of springing this one on you.
Rob Broadfoot 2:54
I think I would start by saying, I haven’t really had over the course of my career. I guess I haven’t had that many bosses.
Don Mock 3:04
Rob Broadfoot 3:04
From a structured standpoint in the workplace. So I’ve never really had an awful boss.
Don Mock 3:10
Rob Broadfoot 3:11
I haven’t had that.
Don Mock 3:11
You lucky son of a gun.
Rob Broadfoot 3:13
I know. Right.
Don Mock 3:14
You’ve never had the creative director that was kicking boxes and screaming and yelling in the hallway and verbally berating. I mean, we can’t do these things anymore.
Rob Broadfoot 3:21
Well, actually, I take that back. I did have one situation where a creative director and I did not get along. But he did not last very long.
Don Mock 3:21
Rob Broadfoot 3:23
And he was gone pretty quickly.
Don Mock 3:31
Okay. Did he stay in Atlanta or did he go?
Rob Broadfoot 3:34
Don Mock 3:34
Okay. All right. Interesting.
Rob Broadfoot 3:35
Yeah. He was brought in from Texas.
Don Mock 3:36
Rob Broadfoot 3:38
Don Mock 3:39
Rob Broadfoot 3:39
Don Mock 3:40
Rob Broadfoot 3:40
And we just didn’t see-
Don Mock 3:42
Rob Broadfoot 3:43
Didn’t see eye to eye.
Don Mock 3:44
So you gave him the boot is what happened.
Rob Broadfoot 3:48
I didn’t give him the boot.
Don Mock 3:49
No, I’ve definitely worked with one of those as well.
Rob Broadfoot 3:51
He earned the boot. But it’s a weird industry like that.
Don Mock 3:50
Yeah, well, creative people. And we’ve talked about jokingly, how we’re all kind of insecure. But some people take that insecurity and manifest it into, anger and rage and rule-by-an-iron fist, I think sometimes.
It’s a lot of strong personalities, I think when it comes to creative in a lot of different ways.
Rob Broadfoot 4:12
Don Mock 4:13
Rob Broadfoot 4:13
Yep. Or it’s the opposite. Completely insecure, and just, “okay.”
Don Mock 4:20
Just cower over.
Rob Broadfoot 4:20
I’ll change it, whatever.
Don Mock 4:22
Rob Broadfoot 4:23
But anyway, I think about clients that sometimes are challenging, and they’re challenging in different ways. It’s not always a bad thing.
Don Mock 4:34
Rob Broadfoot 4:34
I mean, when clients challenge you on certain things… it’s hard to pick a specific example. But when clients push back and they challenge you, I think we have a tendency to go, “no, no, no, no, we understand this. We know this. We know this.” I think that’s oftentimes a knee-jerk reaction.
Don Mock 4:54
Rob Broadfoot 4:54
That’s absolutely not the right approach. The right approach is to stop and just like anybody else, go, Okay, wait a minute, let me sort of think about this. And address, and a lot of times they’re right. We always say no one knows their business better than they do.
Don Mock 5:07
Rob Broadfoot 5:08
Which is, which is a common colloquialism around here.
Don Mock 5:11
Unless- Let me interrupt you.
Rob Broadfoot 5:13
Don Mock 5:13
Unless their entire marketing department has turned over three times over the course of us working with them
Rob Broadfoot 5:20
There are exceptions to every rule for sure.
Don Mock 5:21
Which absolutely has happened. From management all the way down to junior woodchuck, to the point where it’s like, oh, my god, you guys don’t even know your own products. We know your stuff better than you know it. Which has happened. It’s kind of funny.
Rob Broadfoot 5:36
Challenging clients, to me, isn’t about the work. It’s often not about the work. Sure you do have those, where they have an opinion on something and you go, “No, I think the majority of the universe would disagree with that opinion.”
Don Mock 5:50
Rob Broadfoot 5:51
But again, it’s to a certain degree, it’s art. It is subjective, the stuff that we do.
Don Mock 5:56
Rob Broadfoot 5:56
It’s the way that- commercial art, right- I think the way that clients communicate sometimes can be very challenging.
Don Mock 6:06
Rob Broadfoot 6:07
When all of a sudden, you get the sense that you’re being talked down to, or belittled, or taken advantage of, or any of those things, that’s when it becomes really, really difficult.
Don Mock 6:17
Rob Broadfoot 6:17
Because then, fundamentally, if you’re being treated like that, it trickles up to everything else.
Don Mock 6:22
Rob Broadfoot 6:23
And you get to that point where everything they say, you’re going to be like, No.
Don Mock 6:26
Rob Broadfoot 6:27
Or everything you say they’re going to be like, No. It Just becomes like any other relationship-
Don Mock 6:31
Rob Broadfoot 6:32
- working or personal or otherwise, it just becomes combative.
Don Mock 6:36
Rob Broadfoot 6:37
How do you try and negotiate that?
Don Mock 6:42
Yeah, it can be a slippery slope, for sure. It’s not that, “hey, we need praise, and thanks for every single email sent out in the world.” I think that over the course of us doing this, and just our careers, we’ve all learned the hard way, potentially, that tonality can’t be read in an email. You know what I mean? It’s jokes, or this or that, those types of things. Some people, it’s just like, hey. It comes off as abrasive, even though it’s potentially not meant to be abrasive, things like that. Or we’ve had some funny instances in the past with clients, where it’s like, “God, these emails are brutal!” Absolutely brutal emails. They raise your blood pressure, the heart’s pounding. Then you talk to them on the phone, and they’re the nicest person on the planet.
Rob Broadfoot 7:29
That’s why, I mean, how many times have you heard me say, to pick up the phone and call?
Don Mock 7:35
Rob Broadfoot 7:35
Because you’re absolutely right. The written word over an email or text, you’re gonna read into it wherever you are in your headspace.
Don Mock 7:43
Rob Broadfoot 7:43
However you want to interpret it, not how they meant it. Generally speaking.
Don Mock 7:48
Well, we’ve kind of been picking on clients, which I think makes sense because we interface with a lot, obviously. So I think it’s funny in regards to that, you mentioned the combative aspect, but we’ve also had clients that keep you on your toes. You know what I mean? Which I think is great. I’ll name drop the one that Rick. The first time we met Rick out in the wild.
Rob Broadfoot 8:10
Shout out to Rick.
Don Mock 8:11
Shout out, Rick. We won’t use his last name. I’ll just go Rick L.
Rob Broadfoot 8:16
Don Mock 8:18
I remember walking out of that meeting. I don’t know if you remember this. We were walking out of that meeting. First time we met this guy, and super strong personality. Coming on strong.
Rob Broadfoot 8:29
Very, very opinionated.
Don Mock 8:31
Yeah. and I think I think what we discussed literally in the parking lot, before we even got into the car was “Man, we’re either going to party like rockstars and this is going to be absolutely incredible. Or we are going to absolutely crash and burn and the personalities will not coexist.” But here’s the good news. We will know immediately, literally in the first project if this is a good fit or not.
Rob Broadfoot 8:55
Don Mock 8:55
Which I think was pretty brief. Do you remember it that way?
Rob Broadfoot 8:59
I do. And then I remember leaving maybe the next meeting and being like, I love this guy. It was great.
Don Mock 9:06
Rob Broadfoot 9:06
He’s gonna be awesome. He’s gonna keep us on our toes and allow us to do great work and challenge us to do great work.
Don Mock 9:13
I think it was a logo project right? Cuz something’s ringing a bell. Early on in the relationship, might not have been the first one, But there was a logo project. In the middle of meeting, he goes, “That one looks like a urinal.” You remember that?
Rob Broadfoot 9:26
Don Mock 9:27
Yeah. and it was like-
Rob Broadfoot 9:28
Oh, wow, okay.
Don Mock 9:31
Yeah, but it was, hey, you know what you want, you know what you need, you know your business better than anybody else. We’re coming in fresh. We do provide an outside perspective, but that abrasive potential personality rub, you could find that as a difficult… not for everybody if that makes any sense. We have incredibly thick skin, though. I think we were like “Yeah, okay, that one’s off the table, throw it away.”
Rob Broadfoot 9:59
I have a quick anecdote that I just thought about. So this is years and years and years ago, and I went into pitch a relatively large client. I won’t say the name, but you’ve heard of him.
Don Mock 10:12
Rob Broadfoot 10:13
I went in, and it was the first meeting with them, and we were going in. We weren’t pitching creative. We were just showing our work.
Don Mock 10:20
Rob Broadfoot 10:21
Don Mock 10:22
Rob Broadfoot 10:23
Capabilities presentation. So we’re sitting across the table, and we’re halfway through and there’s two guys from the client side. He literally put his head down on the table and starts going (snoring sound).
Don Mock 10:39
Yeah, starts snoring.
Rob Broadfoot 10:40
Don Mock 10:41
Yeah. “You’re boring me.”
Rob Broadfoot 10:43
Yeah. I was kind of young at the time and didn’t know… it’s like, what do you do?
Don Mock 10:48
Rob Broadfoot 10:49
So my response was to take the- and this back when we had a book. It was a presentation booklet.
Don Mock 10:54
Yeah. We’re not digitally presenting. Yeah.
Rob Broadfoot 10:57
So slammed that shut, slid it across the table at him and said, “Great. What’s the first project? Let’s go!”
Don Mock 11:02
Rob Broadfoot 11:02
And he picked his head up off the table and said, “Okay, great. We need three TV spots for this, this, duh, duh duh. And ended up working on that client for years and years and years.
Don Mock 11:11
Rob Broadfoot 11:14
So yeah, a lot of strong personalities. It can go really well sometimes. Or sometimes it doesn’t go. To me it always goes back to how they treat you.
Don Mock 11:24
Rob Broadfoot 11:25
If you want to talk about the work and be direct and call it a urinal. Urinal?
Don Mock 11:29
Yeah, whatever. Ee know what you’re sayig.
Rob Broadfoot 11:31
The thing you urinate in. Fine, as long as you’re not demeaning,, and disrespectful and not appreciative of our time and the effort that was put into things.
Don Mock 11:42
To a certain extent, and I’ve said this over the years- advertising and design is a trust-based business. It’s hey, you give us an assignment, and you trust that we’re going to be on time, on budget. You trust that we are messaging and strategizing correctly for the appropriate target audience. Design… there is subjectivity. Is this logo better than that logo? I don’t know. We could talk about epic logo failures, and we can talk about epic logo successes. But there’s that giant swath in the middle of, “it’s perfectly acceptable.” It is kind of the working relationship and how you trust your clients. Any interesting stories about coworkers or having to work with… because we’ve talked a lot about clients. Anything from the early days of the career? You mentioned you didn’t really have any difficult Creative Director bosses.
Rob Broadfoot 12:34
Well, there have been a couple of instances of employees.
Don Mock 12:38
Rob Broadfoot 12:39
How about that?
Don Mock 12:40
Rob Broadfoot 12:42
None currently, obviously, it goes without saying.
Don Mock 12:45
Rob Broadfoot 12:46
But there have been some in the past, where you get a personality that doesn’t quite fit. Maybe there’s some issues there. So how do you deal with that? Because hiring people and managing employees…
Don Mock 12:59
That’s a whole nother ball of wax.
Rob Broadfoot 13:00
It’s a whole nother ball of wax. It’s a whole big part of the job. It’s not an easy thing to do.
Don Mock 13:03
Rob Broadfoot 13:04
You try your best to cultivate the relationships and help people grow and learn and learn how to be polite.
Don Mock 13:12
Yeah. What’s interesting, too, in an agency world is, at least, specifically of our size, too, is you do get a lot of personalities. But you have a lot of different skill sets, all doing different parts to support a specific client or initiative. So it’s not like there’s 12 of us here and we all do exactly the same thing.
Rob Broadfoot 13:32
Don Mock 13:32
And we all need to be managed the same way. It’s different people doing different parts. The sum of the parts is greater than… whatever that expression is. So I’m reminded of that Bill Parcells quote of, “I’m gonna treat everybody fair, but I’m not going to treat everybody the same.” Because people sometimes need to be managed slightly differently, according to their personalities. Hey, man, maybe, as you mentioned, maybe we’re the difficult ones out there.
Rob Broadfoot 14:01
I think when you’re an agency of our size… we don’t have fhis formal org chart where it’s, I report directly to this person, to this person, that person. We’re a little bit more of a flat organization to a degree. I think that sometimes can allow for some of those, “Oh, why are you telling me what to do?” A little bit of that, too.
Don Mock 14:23
Yeah, but we do have that entrepreneurial spirit. So to your point of, some people may recede and some people may rise to the occasion.
Rob Broadfoot 14:30
Don Mock 14:31
Right. Difficult people, man, they’re everywhere. So I’m reminded of, I was working… this was a million million years ago. I was working at a large agency, and had a coworker that was just difficult. The reason why I’m sharing this is that not everything has to be combative, of course. Instead of just grumbling and grumbling and going to talk to my boss or this or that, it was like, “You know what? I’m going to make it my mission to make that person my friend.”
Rob Broadfoot 15:00
Don Mock 15:01
That we’re in it together. Hey, we don’t have to be besties. We don’t have to go out drinking every single night after work. I think business travel sometimes can bring people together actually like, “Oh my god, we’re stuck in the airport together” or “Up, we’re in a car together driving to work,” those types of things. You do get to sort of break down some of those barriers, some of those walls, which I think is interesting. Then over the course of however many months or whatever, it was almost it almost became a joke. Like, “Why did we not like each other?” Because now we can’t do our job literally, without each other. There’s so much trust there, and understanding of what everybody brings to the party. So it was interesting,
Rob Broadfoot 15:40
I think, also too, and you’ve said this forever, and I adopted it a long time ago.
Don Mock 15:45
Rob Broadfoot 15:45
The idea that there are people complain and complain, and then there are people that offer solutions.
Don Mock 15:53
Rob Broadfoot 15:54
I think that’s a great managerial mantra. Don’t come to me and just tell me what’s wrong.
Don Mock 16:03
Rob Broadfoot 16:04
Or bitch about this or that. I need you to bring me a solution.
Don Mock 16:07
Rob Broadfoot 16:07
I need you to offer a solution. So I think we try and do that. I think that’s a great way to sort of maybe round that corner between disparaging conversation, or whatever else to hey, let’s let’s move this forward. Let’s move it forward and make it better.
Don Mock 16:22
Totally. One of the best pieces of advice I ever got, a million years ago, was exactly that was affectionately known as “Don’t show up and throw up.” Which was “Don’t just come in my office, throw up all over the floor with all your problems, and then leave.”
Rob Broadfoot 16:33
Don Mock 16:34
Because now all of a sudden, those are all my problems.
Rob Broadfoot 16:36
Now I’m irritated with you.
Don Mock 16:37
Yeah, exactly. It was, Hey, if you want to go somewhere, if you want to take a managerial lead. You want to promote, you got to bring solutions. You Just can’t tell me what’s going on. It’s, Hey, XYZ happened. I tried this, and it worked. Or I tried this, and it didn’t work, Can you help me? Or XYZ, such and such. Then it’s, Hey, I’m thinking about doing this.
Rob Broadfoot 16:59
What if we do this? What do you think about this?
Don Mock 17:01
Yeah, exactly. So round that corner of the conversation. Don’t just stop with Blah! I think that has served me well. I’ve tried to sort of…
Rob Broadfoot 17:01
If you’re gonna throw up, you have to clean it up.
Don Mock 17:15
Yeah. Well, Daisy threw up in the office the other day. The pollen season is a fact. and she is three inches off the ground. Somebody’s thrown up in my office. Anyway, I digress.
Rob Broadfoot 17:27
I hope it’s not Cuyler. That would be awkward.
Don Mock 17:28
No, no, it was Daisy, Daisy. That would be weird.
Rob Broadfoot 17:31
A weird conversation.
Don Mock 17:33
Difficult people, man. They’re everywhere. As you as you mentioned, it could be us. I mean, we might be-
Rob Broadfoot 17:38
Could be us.
Yeah. I don’t know. Drop us a note.
Tell us how difficult we are.
Don Mock 17:45
Alright, we’ll wrap it up on that one.
Rob Broadfoot 17:46
All right. Very good. Well, hey, visit us online of course at mocktheagency.com or on any of the socials. We’re there @mocktheagency and hope to hear from you soon.
Don Mock 17:57
Rob Broadfoot 17:58
Talk to you next time.