Thursday, November 12, 2009

How to deal with difficult people.

Post 367 - Relations at work often involve dealing with "difficult people." When this happens, start by reframing the issue: It's not the difficult person that's the problem - it's their difficult behavior.

Remember, it takes two to tango: If you stay away from blaming someone who's being difficult, you can take control of the situation. What happens after the "first shot" will be determined by your reaction to it. If people are difficult, it's usually because they're rewarded for it. So let's look at where the reward comes from.

Many of the things difficult people do are intended to control their situation and to get other people's attention. Being difficult and creating problems allows them to manipulate, control, and influence others, even if the reactions are negative. Their reward and reinforcement comes from creating those reactions. It's like parents and children. Once children know what the parents don't want them to do, they have the exact information they need to get the parents' attention.

Difficult interpersonal behavior often shows up when people have an almost compulsive need to show others that they're worth something. It isn't that they're evil or intentionally unpleasant. Rather, it's that they're often insecure and desperate. Some people act out in difficult ways because of their biology. The truth is they can't help it. So add a dash of compassion to your negative reactions.

It's important not to give difficult people the emotional reaction they want. If you keep the reasons for their behavior in perspective, you're less likely to reward their bad behavior.

Here's a checklist to bear in mind when dealing with difficult employees:

- Always remain positive.

- Be direct, descriptive and non-judgmental.

- Be prepared with facts, not gossip or rumors.

- Address the problem, don't attack the person.

- Maintain eye contact and be aware of your body language.

- Watch your tone of voice and timing.

- Focus on the message, restating it as appropriate and as necessary.

- Realize that their behavior is often predictable. Look for patterns.

- Expect that their behavior will impact others.

- Try to discover the root causes of their problem so it can be addressed most appropriately, either by yourself or by other professionals.

- Don't try to provoke them into quitting or getting fired. Most employees are worth saving with some coaching to help them change or accept help.

- Always deal with the issue of their performance rather than criticizing them personally.

If you want to read more about this topic, I suggest you try Fierce Conversations by Susan Scott.

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