David Brown

The Art and Science of Dealing with Difficult People

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    Reinforce appropriate behaviour
    The previous Secret focused on rewarding the right activity. Here we’ll look at reinforcing appropriate behaviour – that is, the way things are done rather than what is being done. Use both Secrets together to minimize the number of difficult people.

    This Secret and the previous one have a big thing in common. They are both about rewarding and reinforcing what it is that you want in the business. Once again, this is easier if there is leadership from the top, and it is part of the culture – but your isolated contribution to reinforcing the right behaviour will help develop improved relationships with those around you.

    case study Norman was coaching a manager who had constant problems in meetings with two people. They undermined what was going on, which distracted the others. Norman suggested that the manager might try several things with the two difficult people – have separate chats with them to understand

    • Work on values. Make sure that company values are not just posted on the noticeboard and forgotten. That will make them a waste of time. Encourage company values to be identified and for the associated behaviours to be reinforced. So, if one of your values is “We value team before self”, make sure that the behaviours that look like good teamwork are privately and publicly reinforced and rewarded.

    • Manage performance. Incorporate the above ideas into your performance review process, so that you will review behaviours as a way of life and also periodically review values-based behaviour
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    • Understand what makes us tick. If you are to manage difficult behaviour successfully, you need to understand behaviour! Consider what shapes our behaviour, what behaviours you can realistically expect to change – and what you can’t.
    • Look in the mirror. You may be the problem. This chapter helps you to understand yourself and to consider how you appear to others.
    • Step into their shoes. If you are to help people see the need for change, you need to understand those people and discover why they are different to you. In this chapter you will be offered tips on how to create trust and rapport before attempting change.
    • Give difficult people a chance. There is a need for you to display leadership, even though sometimes you may not be the line manager. We will look at clear outcomes, role clarity, reinforcing appropriate behaviour and helpful communication.
    • Use the right tool for the situation. There are many tools
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    Check your credibility. Before you seek to change others, make sure you are credible yourself.
    • Put first things first. Demonstrate clearly what your priorities are and how they fit with the priorities of those around you.
    • Be positive Use a positive and common language to relate to those you work with
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    Learn together. Link the personal development of yourself and others to the business plan.
    • Visualize success. Then turn that into a shared way forward.
    • Ensure that helping people is part of the culture. This is easier if it applies to the whole organization, but you can make a dent in this as an individual by supporting and helping those around you.
    • Agree positive outcomes. Start with the end in mind – a positive one.
    • Regularly exchange expectations. Do this with the key people around you – your boss, colleagues and people in other departments.
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    Let’s consider some of the many possible reasons why people behave like this:

    • Past experiences. Experiences of a previous company or culture have affected them badly.
    • Religious or cultural beliefs. These might cause them to reject others around them.
    • Insecurity. They are fearful for their position, or possibly don’t feel valued or trusted.
    • Unsure of themselves. They lack confidence in their ability.
    • You. They might not like, respect or trust you.
    • Antipathy. They dislike their job.
    • Confusion. They are unclear about what is expected of them.
    • Volatility. They are driven by emotion and ignore logic.
    • Personal problems. They may have private issues to deal with.
    • Grievances. They may harbour an unspoken sense of unfairness about their role or career.
    • Lack of support. They are not getting the help they need.
    • Personality. They are unpleasant, devious or selfish, which we can’t change much, so it pays not to recruit such people in the first place
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    First let’s look at the symptoms that you and others might see in your difficult person:

    • Hostility. They could be hostile to you, with their spoken and written communications and with their body language.
    • Lack of interest. They fail to engage with the people they work with, or lack energy.
    • Poor performance. They fail to deliver the results expected of them, or fail to deliver on time.
    • Low standards. Their work is sub-standard or erratic, and they ignore requests to improve.
    • Lack of motivation. They deliver only the minimum necessary.
    • Negative outlook. They see only problems.
    • Discordant. They do things differently to everyone else
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    10 Will other people share your view? Is there a need to accept different behaviour because of the positive contribution of the person in question? Will others tolerate the present situation, or will they want to change it
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    4 Is this person a ‘square peg in a round hole’ (misfit)? What motivates them? How valued do they feel? Will they ever be happy and work effectively in this situation?

    5 Have you understood more than just the symptoms of poor behaviour? Do other people need to spend more time with this person? Have you identified the root cause of this person’s behaviour? Is there a lack of leadership? Is there clarity of his or her role? Are there clearly defined expectations?

    6 Are communications sufficiently clear? Are team briefs in place to give information on progress and what is expected? Is the person involved in the right meetings? Or involved in too many?

    7 Are the right things rewarded? Are inappropriate things allowed to go unchecked? Is feedback encouraged? Is performance review a way of life?

    8 How helpful is the culture? Is there mutual respect and trust around the person? Is there a need to accept the value of different styles? Is the culture one that encourages problem-solving, or is it poorly organized chaos?

    9 Who else might be finding this person difficult? Is their performance acceptable to their team
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    Check the situation
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    1 Are there any organizational or team issues? Have there been any changes in structure or responsibilities?

    2 How much do you and others understand their situation? How much do you know of this person and how they go about their daily work? How reasonable are the demands placed on them? What systems and procedures are they obliged to follow? Is someone else causing the problem? Can you understand why they react as they do?

    3 Are there conflicting departmental interests that are driving the problem? Does this person report to others?
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    An appreciation of what is changing in the world around you.
    • The complete picture that surrounds you and the other person.
    • Where the power and influence lie to help you achieve your goals.
    • What tools, such as psychometrics, to use in any given situation.
    • How to manage change
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    Being courageous enough to take a measured, calculated risk.
    • Accepting responsibility for both successes and mistakes.
    • Judging other people’s performance, not their character.
    • Sharing your knowledge
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    Body of knowledge you need to build:
    • The cultural differences that may be a factor in any specific situation.
    • The importance of a psychological contract.
    • Recognition of your own beliefs, prejudices, competence and confidence.
    • The law, company policy, systems and procedures.
    • How to manage third-party and 360-degree feedback.
    • How to diagnose the right problem, then how to solve it.
    • How to manage emotion when it overrides logic.
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    Attitudes you need to cultivate:
    • Starting with the end in mind.
    • Respecting other people’s values, beliefs and opinions.
    • Accepting that others won’t do it your way.
    • Seeking outcomes that are acceptable to all parties.
    • Having the courage to accept pressure and face conflict.
    • Being flexible. Use ‘different strokes for different folks’.
    • Being prepared to learn and improve your performance.
    • Being open to new ideas.
    • Seeking first to understand, then to be understood.
    • Accepting that differences will exist.
    • Accepting that differences are okay.
    • Avoiding unhelpful stereotyping.
    • Building trust and/or credibility before seeking to bring about
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    Skills you need to demonstrate:
    • To step into other people’s shoes.
    • To listen first, and listen more than you talk.
    • To tell it like it is, without spin but with some sensitivity.
    • To deliver specific, quality feedback that others will value.
    • To stay calm under pressure.
    • To display helpful, collaborative body language.
    • To set a good example, be a role model and lead.
    • To set measures of success, review regularly and reward success.
    • To display emotional intelligence.
    • To ask questions in order to understand others.
    • To be assertive – not submissive and not aggressive.
    • To encourage feedback from others.
    • To work with positive outcomes and positive language.
    • To be straightforward and clear in your communications.
    • To visualize success, decide on your strategy and agree a plan of action.
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    1 Get your facts right.
    2 Talk to someone, rather than send a prickly email.
    3 Stick to the point. Don’t dilute your case by trying to cover too many issues.
    4 Be reasonable, or you will not be listened to and you will be labelled as difficult.
    5 Stay calm if you want to avoid the other person becoming difficult. You will achieve much more if you are courteous and polite.
    6 Pick the right person. Sometimes it’s best to leave it with just one person for them to sort out. On other occasions it may pay you to lobby several people, including senior people. It depends who you want a relationship with.
    7 Consider explaining the consequences of it not being dealt with. It’s usually best to resort to this when there is no sign of resolution.
    8 Be patient. It’s linked with being reasonable.
    9 Know what you can change and what you can’t
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    E = give an Example. “Last week you promised to ring me back and you haven’t.”
    • E = explain the Effect. “This has prevented me from organizing the other building contractors.”
    • C = ask for Change. “Please keep me updated on progress and ring me when you say you will
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    Outcomes. Draw a line sloping upwards. At the bottom left, describe your present situation. At the top right, describe where you want to finish up. Between these two endpoints you can mark goals, milestones and the resources that you need. You can define any problem as the difference between the present and future states
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    4 Consider how to involve the whole group. One way to encourage this is to rotate the roles of chairperson, minute-taker, timekeeper and controller of interruptions.
    5 Ask the minute-taker to make notes in the form of action points, by whom, and by when. Photocopy this before the meeting ends, and secure everyone’s agreement to the actions
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    If you are chairing or managing the meeting

    1 Make sure that everyone knows what is expected of them before they turn up.
    2 Before starting, remind people of the outputs needed, and the behavioural ground rules for success.
    3 Avoid having the same set of people attending the same meetings for the whole time. Instead, create a situation where the group trust each other to handle some things in their absence. Develop a culture where there is no stigma attached to not attending
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