In the Land of Difficult People: 24 Timeless Tales Reveal How to Tame Beasts at Work
By Terrence L. Gargiulo and Gini Graham Scott
Storytelling “puts a fresh, new face on the age-old problem of how to relay the message in such a way that the full impact of the message will be felt.”
Once upon a time, there were two prolific authors (both seem to generate two or three books a year) who understood storytelling in business (Terrence Gargiulo) and surviving conflicts at work (Gini Graham Scott). Together, they wrote In the Land of Difficult People, which recounts 24 folk stories from outside of the United States (one Native American story excepted).
Storytelling is a compelling way to introduce concepts because it “puts a fresh, new face on the age-old problem of how to relay the message in such a way that the full impact of the message will be felt.” The tales are grouped into eight chapters, each of which tells three stories centering around a common theme: wolves (tyrannical bosses), cats (independent individuals), foxes (crafty villains), lions (power-hungry people), snails (lazy people), ravens (tricksters), snakes (defensive people), and monkeys (poor communicators). (Side note: It is much easier to imagine yourself as being a “fox,” rather than a “crafty villain.”) Each chapter has a short introduction, and each story is followed by a few paragraphs explaining how it applies to work situations. Each explanation is followed by suggestions about how one might handle those tricky situations.
My interest in this book is two-fold: (1) the stories tend to help us understand other cultures as we learn about the stories that helped form their value systems and (2) the stories’ application sections help us understand “what to do,” as the authors say. The suggestions in these application sections are under a page long, generally, and a bit disappointing in their brevity. These suggestions range from the obvious (e.g., get help) to the Machiavellian (e.g., use the speakerphone so others can hear a private conversation, send anonymous emails, or leave the company).
This is a small book that you can start reading at any chapter, and the stories are short enough that they can be sandwiched in when you have a few minutes before a meeting starts or a flight boards. The book’s title is a great conversation starter unless the conversation is with a wolf. I enjoyed the book for the stories and read the suggestions with interest, but due to the short application sections, I do not feel that the book has the theoretical or practical depth needed for a book on working with difficult people in a variety of situations.
I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in ideas about dealing with difficult people in the work world or anyone who wants to identify his or her traits and how people may be reacting to them.
 M. Romejko, “More Effective Communication Through Storytelling,” Scholar and Educator: The Journal of the Society of Educators and Scholars, 26, no. 2 (2004): 81.
 Click here to read a review of another of Scott’s books, Enjoy!: 101 Ways to Add Fun to Your Work Every Day.