Leading difficult people: Critical Carl


There’s room in any organization for every type of person. From the big-picture person to the detail-conscious, all can make a valid contribution. But sometimes a team member’s strength can be their weakness. Attention to detail can become fixation on the negative. And the voice of reason turns into the voice of discouragement.

This is the problem we have with Critical Carl. He’s probably the most thorough and conscientious team member. He’s a great planner. But he seems to only see the negative. And he voices his criticisms to anyone who will listen.

We’ve been spending the past few weeks talking about leading difficult people. You can click the names to read about Fearful FredSlumped SusanExcited Eddie, and Disorganized Debbie. Now let’s discuss how to understand, listen to, and lead Critical Carl.

Understanding Critical Carl:

  1. Behavior:      Often negative
  2. Motivated by: Someone to listen to him
  3. Strength:      Detail-consciousness
  4. Weakness:    No filter

Listening to Critical Carl:

  1. Privately sit down and discuss Carl’s concerns.
  2. Discuss the way he’s chosen to voice them.
  3. Point out that he tends to focus on the negative.
  4. Find out if he wants to change.
  5. Share when, how, and with whom it’s appropriate to point out his concerns.

Leading Critical Carl:

  1. Ask the people negatively affected to meet with you and Carl.
  2. Ask for their side of the story.
  3. Ask Carl for an explanation.
  4. Share with them that Carl has a problem with criticism.
  5. Share with them the process you’ve asked him to follow.

Growth Plan:

Read Be a People Person together

What impact does Critical Carl have in your organization? His negative comments have the potential to discourage fellow team members and halt all forward momentum. By accepting at least some of his concerns as valid, and teaching him how he can – and can’t – share them, you might channel his attention to detail in a way that builds the team and contributes to every project.

Next week: The final difficult person in this series, Grandstanding Gary

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  1. 1
    Jeff Brown says:

    I really think that God places people in our lives for mutual benefit. In Bible College, one of our required readings was “Becoming A Person of Influence”. Outside of Scripture I have found this to be one of the most helpful books when I am counseling/ encouraging/ motivating others (and myself!) Numbers 6:24-26 for you and the ministry.
    I am not a paid spokesperson…………….8-)

  2. 2
    Isidore,Edokobi. says:

    People understanding is one of the greatest asset,every leader should have,what motivates people to do what they do,behave the way they do.React the way they do.People are driven,by what holds their attention.This article,Leading difficult people,is so beautiful,and brings the whole scenario,in a perfect picture.

  3. 3
    Mitchmann says:

    Nice and concise. It is very worthwhile getting at the ability locked inside of Carl, covered by the calouses of rebuff and the spiny covering of defensiveness, as the goodness inside bids an improvement to quality.

  4. 4
    Justine (WWDB) says:

    Thank you! I may have to read “Be a people person” because this best suits me out of all the other profiles :)

  5. 5
    Dan Black says:

    Great point. It’s hard to work with negative people but ive found the best thing to is to find comin ground. Thanks for the post.

  6. 6
    Reid Velo says:

    These are great points for working with Critical Carl. Does anyone have suggestions for ways of alleviating the heightened tenseness after Carl is shown his critical and negative tendencies? How do you keep him from being apathetic or overly robust. In this situation, I find it very difficult to have easy-flowing group communication.

  7. 7
    Segun says:

    I love this series, truly relevant. One needs to be concious of this at all times. I believe this is the application of the scripture that says …’ strive to be at peace with ALL men Heb.12:14a.

  8. 8
    Jenn says:

    Excellent Assesment as always John. My church and I are huge fans of your work. God has really annointed you in your work, thank you John for everything. Speaking of this book; Be A People Person, my Pastor highly suggested I read it to help with my areas of communication, being around people, connecting, communication, etc. It is the next one after I finnish; Everyone C.ommunicates Few Connect. Thanks again and God Bless.

  9. 9

    A clear indication of a true leader is being able to take the good out of anyone – it is often the ego roll playing that gets in the way of being able to lead a ‘critical carl’ and to recognize that his role is also truly valuable. Great points!

  10. 10

    I personally grew up in leadership reading John’s books. I read Today Matters and Leadership Gold among my favorites from John Maxwell. But after reading this blog post, I am inspired to read this book “Be a People Person”.
    We all need to be reminded of things that we already know. This is a great post that reminded me (and many like me today) of the ways the Critical Carl’s of my life can be Lead!
    Thank you John.


  11. 11
    Aseperi Funsho says:

    Nothing God made is bad; He made all things good. One critical way to really understand people is to know that nothing in life is bad but for the use of it.
    Right perception of the strenghts of another will enable a leader turn worst to best.

    I love you John, please keep it up and high.

  12. 12

    I’ve not come to praise anyone but, if you want to be a good leader, not a tyrant, you must read, I mean read John C. Maxwell’s books with his leadership Bible by the side for concise understanding. Maxwell has really done tremendously well in leadership. If you want to lead, especially difficult people, don’t be ahead or behind them but lead with them, involve them at all times, make them relevant.

  13. 13

    […] John Maxwell offers advice on how to lead difficult people […]