Monday, September 15, 2014

Are You Skilled at Dealing With Difficult People?

It’s 10:00 am.  You’re at your desk feeling quite wonderful thinking to yourself, “It’s going to be a great day!”  Your workflow has settled into a nice hum when suddenly, out of the corner of your eye, you spot Jack Jerk approaching your cubical. “Oh crap!” you exclaim in your head.  You feel a slight pinch in your stomach thinking, “this is the one person I do not want to deal with today.”

Without another conscious thought your body shifts into preparation mode. You tense up physically and emotionally — the invisible shield is moving into position. You eye Jack as he walks swiftly past your cube. You exhale a huge sigh of relief. “Phew,” you say.

I’m going to guess that thousands of workers a day have that exact experience. In fact I don’t need to guess, I know. 

When I was on the public seminar circuit, How to Deal With Difficult People was the most attended seminar and requested onsite. I discovered as I conducted seminars throughout North America, many companies have their own version of Jack Jerk or Molly Moody.  I also discovered that many employees don’t feel effectively equipped to deal with them. 

For some the difficulty is so bad, fellow employees feel stuck, unsupported and demoralized. And for others they just leave. Yep, I've known very talented people to walk out the door. Who would of thought, dealing with difficult people is a talent management and retention issue.

The ability to deal with “difficult’ employees or colleagues, I believe, is an essential professional skill both employee to employee and especially manager to employee. And I’m not going to suggest it’s easy or insult you by saying that there is an effortless formula to quickly ready you for the challenge.

What I will say is you can develop certain skills to deal with a variety of “difficult people” situations, and additionally for managers have certain processes and tools to successfully assist in the effort.  But you have to be ready and willing to do the work.  

Why do I say this? My honest, grounded approach is not a 1,2,3,4 all will be peace and happiness remedy, but addresses dealing with difficult people from both sides. Side one -  what’s difficult about the other person? Side two - why is this person difficult to you?

You see sometimes, difficult is really just different, that we then make difficult.  And sometimes difficult really is difficult, unhealthy or dysfunctional. There really is a difference, for example, between someone who has a confident, strong opinion and someone who is a bully.

There’s also a difference between someone having a personal/professional rough patch and someone who has systemic, habitual patterns of bad behavior.

These two examples lay the foundation for developing the skill and knowledge surrounding this workplace dilemma and that is determining what’s truly difficult and what is not. Beyond discussing obviously bad or unhealthy behavior, the reality is what could be seen as difficult behavior for one person, may not be seen as such for another.  Are you able to discern the difference?  And then what?

I’m hinting at what I suggested earlier. To develop a sense of competency in this arena — to minimize that pit in your stomach, it will take time, focus and commitment. Are you ready?  If so, stay tuned. I’m developing an virtual-coaching course to address this need from an employee to employee perspective.

In the meantime, if you’re a manager (and hey even if you’re not) join me for a free 3 part webcast entitled How To Deal With Difficult Employees.  It begins this Wednesday. Here’s a link to learn more:

To close, I suggest no matter your role, you can start by considering how the dictionary defines difficult. Frankly, it’s eye opening and insightful.  How do any of these definitions apply to you?  Let me know.

This blog is based on this book. In it are actionable ideas on being a better manager: The 1% Edge - The Workbook - Power Strategies to Increase Your Management Effectiveness

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