How To Handle Difficult People

The job of any manager is how efficiently & effectively he handles people at work. It is a challenge as a manager to form coalitions of willing, eager, & ambitious people within the realm of your responsibility.

Handling people at work is not always as easy as it looks like, more so when a manager has to handle difficult people. They can destabilize you if you cannot understand & handle them properly. Every difficult person in the form of a boss, colleague, subordinate, friend that you come in contact with is an opportunity for you to grow & develop into a stronger, more resilient - & more serene- manager. The coping skills need to be learned.

If you get rattled with their behavior they might create a considerable damage in the smooth functioning of your department. Every organization, department, section has difficult people & these people have to be understood, handled & dealt with properly. Failing to act proactively might mean that you are scared to handle these difficult people & to make their presence felt they assume the role of a parasite slowly indulging in the act of gnawing & paralyzing the whole set up. Thus, it becomes a challenge for the managers to take these difficult people along with them while they are in the process of achieving concrete results.

How difficult people affect the work place
  • Difficult people waste a lot of time. They not only waste a lot of their time but waste a lot of your time.
  • Difficult people bring you down. Team efficiency suffers if you & your subordinates simply avoid the person causing the problems.
  • Difficult people affect you at all levels. The effects of difficult people vary depending on whether they are coworkers, subordinates, or your boss.
The problems you encounter in dealing with a difficult person stem from one of the 2 sources.
  • Conflicting Expectations. When you expect something from someone else – increased sales, stepped up performance, higher productivity, or more help with your workload- you set yourself up for the possibility of disappointment. Offices are full of subordinates, coworkers, superiors walking around resenting each other over expectations they never discussed, negotiated, or agreed to. Subordinates, peers, & superiors become "difficult" when they stand between you & your expectations.
  • Unclear Boundaries. Boundaries can be physical or emotional- that is, what you will & will not tolerate in the way others treat you or talk to you. People who cross these boundaries without permission can seem difficult. Ex: A subordinate crosses your boundaries when he walks into your office uninvited, cuts you off in meetings, sends out department-wide directives without consulting you, or makes unauthorized purchases. He becomes a classic difficult subordinate i.e., a difficult employee.

The difficult people in what ever form they are in your organization therefore deplete energy. Deplete energy dampens enthusiasm. Dampened enthusiasm decreases personal performance. Decreased personal productivity diminishes organizational performance. Diminished organizational performance destroys profits.

Hence, every organization & the manager need to have a certain strategies & language to deal with them. Before we really go ahead as to how to handle difficult people, we need to understand them. If you proactively make an earnest attempt to understand difficult people in your work place, the battle is half won.

Focusing on improving & forging the relationship is important because you can't reasonably expect to change a difficult person-you can only hope to influence & change his behavior. Your power lies in your willingness to alter your own assumptions & attitudes. When you take the initiative, you reap rich dividends.

  • The Slave Driver. One kind of difficult people who makes unreasonable demands on your time, resources, & attention.
  • The Black Hole. Some one who takes everything you can give & then asks for more.
  • The Minutiae Monster. Someone who is inefficient, unfocussed, & obsessed with details.
  • The Busybody. Someone who doesn't respect personal & professional boundaries.
  • The Recluse. Someone who is isolated & does not communicate with coworkers.
  • The Bully. Someone who deliberately intimidates others.
  • The Liar. A person who deliberately breaks the rules & misleads you.
  • The Outlaw. Someone who doesn't play by the rules unless they're his own.
  • The Blamer-Complainer. Someone who blames you & others for his mistakes.
  • Know-It – All. Someone who claims to know everything about everything.

After going through the above, you now have a fair idea of the many ways people can be difficult to work with. Note that not all difficult people will fit neatly into one of the categories but they may possess one or more traits which makes them difficult to work with. These people will behave in the most unconventional & unpredictable ways imaginable-intentionally or not. Be ready. In any event, be prepared to act decisively.

To be an asset to your company, you need to be a problem solver. In other words, you need to possess certain attributes at making problems go away. The more one does, the more he commands respect, the more he commands respect, and the more he would be given difficult & complex problems. The more complex problems he resolves, the more he commands value in the work place, the more he commands value in his work place, the more he commands a price. Thus, his career graphs sky rockets to all time high.

To manage all difficult people & the problems that come with them, you need to remember one basic principle: FIRST, YOU MUST SEPARATE THE PROBLEM FROM THE PERSON.

  • The Constructive Confrontation Cycle. One of the best advices given by Henry Cloud: Go hard on the issue & soft on the person. In other words, when you need to confront a staff member, bring to the table both your high work expectations & standards & a sympathetic ear. Focus on what you want to get out of the confrontation. To solve the problem, make the relationship stronger, help the person develop & empower the development.
  • In a constructive confrontation cycle engage difficult employee in conversation, create a written covenant or an agreement. Schedule & conduct regular feedback & monitoring sessions. Celebrate the accomplishment of short-term goals. Repeat process until long-term goals have been achieved.
  • Progressive Discipline. If you have engaged in constructive confrontation with an employee who continues to be difficult, it's time to use the extensive counseling & documentation you've built up to begin a formal program of progressive discipline. Progressive discipline offers difficult employees a chance to turn their situation around, under the looming threat of dismissal.
  • Give positive feedback in public, but give reprimands in public.
  • Termination. Sometimes there is no other option left for the manager to deal with incorrigible people in the work place, termination is the only answer. Be as diplomatic as possible to avoid any further confrontation in your work place. Trust that you are doing the right thing for your business and then make sure you follow all the correct procedures with the support of your HR department.
  • If you do need to terminate someone's employment, the best time is at the end of the workday, preferably at the end of the week; make a point to call a meeting the next workday to notify your other employees in person.

Every Manager faces difficult people while they are in the process of achieving organizational objectives. The focus of a manager should be the company's objectives & not the person who makes his job & your job difficult. You need to skillfully pull out the weeds as & when they appear. While undertaking this article, I have taken some invaluable points from the book 'Difficult People' by John Hoover.

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