Genuinely difficult people!

Genuinely difficult people!

I’m sure you know what I’m talking about – people who just seem to take offense easily; or who give offense just as easily; or who are just plain out-and-out rude! The amount of productive time that gets lost at work when you’re trying to deal with people like that is staggering.

And the cost in terms of staff morale and happiness is incalculable!

I think that means it’s pretty important to deal with this. Chances are you think it’s important to get these difficult people sorted out, too… but before jumping in with looking at how to do exactly that, it’s helpful to look at a few things that happen before anyone is difficult.

After all, no one thinks they are being difficult.

Inside their own heads, everyone is reasonable.

From your own point of view it’s always the other person who’s being difficult – by definition. What that means is that the tools for dealing with difficult people and difficult situations aren’t always the ones we think they are.

As John Barth said “Everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story.”

… so right back at the start of things, it’s always a good idea to look at why people are being difficult. Statistically, there are some things which are known to be more likely than others to trigger difficult behaviour.

On the grounds that ‘prevention is better than cure’ isn’t it a good idea to spot these triggers and do something about it before the difficult behaviour arises? To use the old saying ‘forewarned is forearmed’ – so you can at least avoid being taken by surprise!

If you’re running a business, a department or even a team, you can quite significantly reduce the likelihood of having problems whenever you make a change (of any kind!) by asking yourself a few questions before you start. Don’t be deceived by how apparently simple the questions are – and how much like common sense they sound – they’ll help you more than you expect.

Before making any changes, ask yourself:

  • who is going to benefit, who is going to suffer and (much more importantly!) who is going to believe they are going to benefit and who is going to believe they are going to suffer?
  • if you explained why the changes are going to take place and what the final benefits are going to be. Have you also explained the process? Actually, forget that – it’s not about whether or not you have explained it, it’s about whether people have understood it! All too often managers assume these are the same thing… but they aren’t.
  • whether you are tapping into anyone’s hidden agenda. For example, you might think that moving offices to a brand new, smarter, cleaner and nicer workplace is a good thing for everyone – but have you forgotten to take account of the hidden hierarchy of the office!? Certain locations in offices have subtle, but real, perceived hierarchical benefits and there’s a good chance that someone is going to feel demoted by the move!
  • if the change you’re thinking forced or intended. People are much more likely to respond negatively to a change that they didn’t initiate.  Can you get people to initiate the change you need – or to feel they’ve been involved, at least?
  • whether you recognise that there’s even a change at all! What you might think of as ‘business as usual’ doesn’t always feel that way to everyone else. If circumstances change outside of your team (such as a bus stop moving or a competitor doing something different) it can feel like a change-by-comparison… and one that you might not notice. Of course, some members of your team will.

Our experience is that the last question is a really common cause of difficult behaviour!

None of this is to say that personality doesn’t play a big role in whether or when people show difficult behaviour – and we’ll talk about that next time. But it’s important to remember that there’s a whole raft of other things to think about too – more systematic and predictable things… and that means they’re things you can use to do something about, so that you reduce the chances of problems!

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