When I do business talks, the one line that always gets people nodding in the room is when I say “If you like the people you work with it’s fun, when there’s an asshole it’s work”. Unfortunately having to deal with difficult people often comes as the downside of big trips, the bigger the trip, the bigger the number, the greater the chance of having to deal with troublesome people.
Now not every troubled person needs to be an asshole, some are only wankers, and if not a wanker, then just a knob, and if not a knob, simply a pain (this is the Andy K scale of difficult people you understand). And of course, there is the pinnacle of troubled partners - category 1 = the Grade A cunt!
On a trip I think the number one reason for people being difficult is not down to them at all, nothing they did, nothing they said, it’s just that someone fucked up and asked them along! When looking for partners you need to ask yourself a simple question - “Could I go for a drink with this guy” - not “can he climb E7”. Ignore fitness, skill and what they’ve done, and question first what they’re like - like really - what are they like? Some people are just not like you, some are like no one on the planet - their way of seeing things are understandable as a jellyfish. I’ve been asked a few times to do guided trips, and this is why I’ve also turned them down because you’ll always end up stuck looking after some alien life form for a month.
And then there are those people who seemed OK, maybe someone you’ve climbed with for years, or known for a long time, who inexplicably turns into an asshole or quivering wreck as soon as you’ve been away a week. This individual is probably suffering from a condition that is often typified by them shitting their pants, AKA they’re just scared. Yes, people can try and hide it, they can be full of bluster in the bar, make all the right noses, make it look as if they have every intention of doing the deed, but really, deep down, they feel as if they have a one-way ticket to the Eastern front. Such people are often dreamers, or have an overly romantic idea about the realities of hard climbing, or being away in a tough environment, or even just being away. Such people cannot be forced or bullied into anything. They’re dangerous because they’re too rigid with fear, to afraid, unable to relax enough to really understand where the real dangers lie.
Then there are a lot of people who just miss home, their family, the TV, Food, the climbing wall, where every day is not a day away, but a day apart. Again they can make the right noises, but you tend to find them on the satellite phone every other day (sat phones are a nightmare when it comes to disconnecting). Such people are not bad, they were just stupid to come.
Lastly, when you’re on a long tough trip (I’ve been away on trips that lasted 2 months) people get run down, they get injured and hurt, and even the bravest can fear the loaded chamber each time they give it ‘one more try’. Even people you love like a brother or sister can get down, get irritable, attack you, want to beat you with a pan or do things that make no sense.
How do you deal with it? Well unless you can replace them, or sideline them in a positive way, that’s just what you have to do - deal with it. Very often you will need to bite your tongue, hug it out, shake hands, have a group meeting - something positive when all you really want to do is knock their teeth out. In such situations people are like bad weather, you need to adapt, remain flexible, and make allowances. As with any team you need to make sure everyone feels they are valued in that team and resist the temptation to slag off or humiliate someone (common in teams larger than 3). Instead, take them along, find something they can do, make their experience a positive one. Many times in the past I’ve written people off only to find they became my greatest ally in my cause.
And when it’s all over, and you’re travelling home, back to reality, the pressure will lift and you’ll wonder what the problem was? This is something to keep in mind because if someone was your friend in the real world, don’t let what happened out there spoil it forever (unless they reach category 1).
Lastly, remember that people are the same all over though, they don’t tend to set out to be assholes, nobs or wankers, they just act like one due to different pressures, as well as strengths and fault lines in their character - plus you should never lose sight of the fact that maybe you’re wrong, and you’re the asshole.