Dealing With People: A Business Survival Guide

by Bill Brenner on March 23, 2016

From my perch in the information security industry, I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. The best rise to the top of their companies. The worst are crushed beneath the boots of others in what can be a high-stakes, high-pressure field.

Many fall in the middle: They have had soaring success and painful setbacks. Those who manage to bounce back do so because they have learned a thing or two about dealing with people.

I consider myself part of the last category. What follows is a survival guide of sorts. It is a collection of writings I’ve done here and elsewhere about the lessons I’ve learned. May it serve as a useful tool.

Chapter 1: Be a Good Listener to Be Listened ToTo expect people to be good listeners for you, it’s important that you be a good listener, too.

Chapter 2: Share the CreditThere’s a protocol that must be followed in the world of security research. If someone is involved in an important bit of research, it’s important to spread around the credit — often. Few big finds are the work of one person alone. I’ve written about countless vulnerabilities as a journalist and in my current role as part of a corporate research team. Most of the time, it’s a team effort.

Chapter 3: Be Patient. Ambition can take us to the highest heights of our careers. But ambitious people often lack patience, and that’s a recipe for disaster.

Chapter 4: Avoid a Rock Star Mentality.There’s a severe rock-star mentality in infosec, and I once fell into the trap. Please learn from my mistakes.

Chapter 5: When Jaded, Shake Things Up or Get Out of the Way.  When you’ve been dealing with the same people for too long, it’s easy to lose passion. But there are ways to refresh. These are lessons I learned about making security conference attendance worthwhile again.

Chapter 6: Burnout Can Lead to Wisdom (If You Survive). I’ve devoted several posts to combating career burnout, particularly in the information security industry. But something recently occurred to me: Burnout can be a good thing–if you survive.

Chapter 7: Be Kind Without Being PwnedSomeone once told me that being kind to others is a great weapon against depression. Be good to others and you’ll feel better yourself. There’s truth to that. But I’ve also discovered that kindness must be delivered in blunt and unpleasant forms sometimes. Especially in the workplace.

Chapter 8: Be Careful How You Use Twitter. Twitter can be a wonderful place to exchange ideas. But sometimes it can be a place where we overreach and cause needless drama. Here’s an example of what not to do.

Chapter 9: Avoid Looking Small by Avoiding Public Squabbles. How being part of public drama can wreck one’s reputation.

Chapter 10: Always Admit When You’re Wrong. This is painfully difficult to do. Not doing so can make you untrustworthy. Doing so can make you the opposite in the minds of your peers.

Man uses an ear trumpet

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Harris Sussman May 31, 2016 at 5:04 pm


Just wanted to say that your business survival guide is pretty much spot on for dealing with people in any space. I’ve been a people manager for over 25 years, and there isn’t a scenario I haven’t seen. You really need a PHD in psychology to deal with people in every day life, but when you add the complexity around subject like security, just makes it that much more difficult. Thanks for sharing…


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