3 Mistakes we make with difficult people
difficult people

3 Mistakes we make with difficult people

When we manage difficult people there are three mistakes that can make a situation ten times worse. Learn three alternatives that will help you achieve the results you need. 

I recently reflected on a nugget of wisdom my friend shared with me. I was discussing my frustration at the poor behaviour of my dog Meg, who is a Border Collie. My friend and I both own Border collies. Any Collie owner will testify to the strong ‘will’ of this particular breed. However my friend has this to say, ‘there is no such thing as a poorly behaved dog, just a poorly behaved owner’. Anyone who has watched an episode of the ‘Dog Whisperer’ will hear the truth in this statement.  

How we respond to a difficult person and the approach that we use will determine the outcome. This process is applicable to a difficult colleague, difficult person, a child or even a dog. My point is that you must focus on the outcome and not on the negative behaviour.

Difficult people

How we interact with a difficult person in the work environment will have an impact on the capability of the whole team. A manager’s job is not to disown any responsibility under the guise of he/she is “just a ‘difficult person’ there is nothing I can do”. A manager’s job is to take responsibility and do everything possible to help the ‘difficult person’ to be better and do a better job. Managers must also take responsibility for their own responses.

Three mistakes that managers often make are that they: 

Make a direct challenge

If you invite the ‘difficult person’ into your office for a chat and then proceed to directly challenge their behaviour, do not be surprised if they become defensive. If you use lots of statements that begin with the word ‘you’ the person will become offended and the chance of achieving any long-term change will be minimal.

To be successful avoid statements that apportion blame and involve accusation. Be careful not to use ‘you’ statements. Check out this assertion model if you need more tips. 

Focus on the person and not the behaviour

When we make it personal by attacking the person’s personality, attitude or values they will always resist. Even when they submit to your authority and on the outside they appear to be taking your points on board you can bet that you will not see lasting change.

When you need to challenge their behaviour verbalise the outward expression. Focus on the behaviour that you observe and the consequences. Remember it is the behaviour that you wish to change not the personal drivers.

Tell them what you ‘don’t want’.

It is really important to focus on the preferred behaviour. When we focus on what we don’t want we are simply reinforcing the negative behaviour. For example, ‘don’t do such and such’, ‘don’t do X’.

What I would like to encourage you to do is to identify the preferred behaviour or action that you desire. This is a simple language technique but it is really powerful, ‘I would PREFER that in the future you [identify the preferred behaviour]’

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