Dealing with Difficult People Part One: Acknowledging Responsibility

Whether you've inherited a difficult person or - to your lasting regret - appointed them yourself, most managers come up against a difficult individual whom they've had to manage. Does it always have to come to blows? Well, we're not saying it's easy, but in this, the first of two articles on the subject, we'd like to suggest how all is definitely not lost.

Ask any experienced manager and they will tell you they have had one. Some even attribute their greying locks to the experience! And then there are those who have developed the theory that such individuals are placed by Satan himself.

To whom do we refer? To difficult people, of course. A person whose attitude, who's whole approach to their job is perfectly designed to raise your hackles.

Raising Your Hackles

Sometimes you have inherited them; occasionally, you have appointed them. Either way, you soon become aware of an attitude that has soured into a cynical, distant defiance that surfaces in a myriad of underhand, and undermining, ways.

It tests the mettle of the best; it throws down the gauntlet to the manager and challenges them to look deep inside their own selves for the personal strength and courage to address the attitude and seek to turn it round.

But when some managers do look inside themselves they find few skills and, consequently, little courage to tackle the issue. Leadership training prepares you for many things: building positive teams, motivating staff, setting goals and objectives. But what it often doesn't prepare you for is the individual who demotivates the team, demotivates themselves and views any attempt on your part to set goals and objectives with a lofty disdain.

So what to do? Well, first of all: do something!

Act Quickly

Some situations have festered too long without any intervention at all. Perhaps the manager thought that, like influenza, bad attitude is temporary and - with a few sniffles, aches and sneezes - it will soon pass. Of course, you know and we know it won't. Leave it alone and it grows; deal with it incorrectly and it grows even more.

So you have to deal with it quickly, but most importantly of all it has to be dealt with correctly.

Working From Their Negative Side

Someone once said that a difficult person is: "Someone who is working from the negative side of their personality." They think that this area of their personality is the most appropriate way to handle their communication. Why they think that this is the best medium is a matter too big for a small article such as this. But they have; and you have to negotiate - initially - with that side.

Our first objective is to try and move them to recognising that their behaviour is not the most profitable way of working with you. Once you have achieved this, you will then need to help them to recognise that a problem exists. Why spend time doing this? Why not carpet them there and then and tell them it's 'my way or the Highway'?

The American psychologist, Nathaniel Brandon, was very clear about what he felt would be more successful:

"If there are aspects of yourself that you do not like and that are within your power to change, you will be motivated to make the changes once you have accepted the facts as they are. We are not motivated to change those things whose reality we deny."

They Have To Acknowledge Their Behaviour

Without some acknowledgement that the standard of their behaviour is short of where you'd expect it to be, any future conversations are just going to be a waste of time. The individual will not acknowledge a situation just because you tell them. What you have to do is get them to tell themselves and you will only do that by asking them the sorts of questions that get them to acknowledge that such behaviour is happening. Once you have achieved that then you can move on to the behaviour you'd like to see.

Of course, you may well have an individual who has honed their negative delivery to such a high standard of delivery that they sidestep any question, knowing that to answer honestly would be to give ground.

Where do you go then? Next month we look at a three-stage process that moves a difficult person towards adopting a more positive set of behaviours.

And that's got to be good for your grey hair.

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      The Disciplinary Hearing
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