Genuinely difficult people!

Genuinely difficult people!

In the first of these articles (see our last blog), we looked at a few things you can do to reduce the number of times you have to deal with difficult behaviour.

Of course, there’s more to it than that, and it’s important to remember that different people often behave in response to particular things in particular ways. For example, one of the things that has been found to be most likely to cause difficult behaviour is if the person feels under threat in some way. The threat might not be real, of course – it’s how they feel that’s important.

So far so good – obviously, if people feel that they can’t cope they are more likely to behave badly. The trick there lies in recognising what makes people feel threatened or challenged and dealing with it.

But there’s something which is a bit more complicated than that – because people often behave even more badly than you’d expect if they’re responding to a threat on behalf of other people. Let me give you an example: if you push me, I’m likely to try and walk away or talk to you – however, if you push one of my children I’m likely to behave in a way that is far, far more difficult for you to deal with.

Of course that’s quite an extreme example but it does serve to illustrate the point.

What it means is that when you ask yourself the sorts of questions we outlined in last month’s article you need to remember to keep in mind the possibility that people will respond on behalf of other people too – particularly if they feel ‘responsible’ or ‘protective’ of them in some way.

An experienced member of staff might feel that the newcomer isn’t being treated fairly, for example. Of course, if they say something about it you can probably do something about it… but all too often people don’t feel able to articulate exactly what the problem really is.
Instead of mentioning it to you, they behave badly (or talk about) something else.

Instead of telling you that there’s a problem with the way lunch breaks are covered they might sabotage someone else’s lunch break by going missing at a critical time.

Instead of telling you that someone else is leaving work early they might make a point of leaving early themselves.

Instead of drawing your attention to the poor working environment in someone’s office, they pick holes in the plaster.

Your job, as a manager, leader (whatever!) is to figure out what’s causing the problem and sort it out. Remember that it might not even be their own problem that someone is ‘protesting’ about…
… which is, of course, easier said than done!

None of that, of course, means that you can’t (or shouldn’t) deal with a problem when it arises in a robust and constructive way!

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