80 PERCENT OF THE PEOPLE YOU DEAL with will not be a problem. The other 20 percent may take up a lot of your time, energy and effort.
Managing difficult people is a skill all managers need to acquire. Many of us might not be good at it and we constantly find ourselves confronted with the difficulties that come with managing people. However, managing difficult people is a skill not very different from the skills required in negotiating with tough people, selling to a demanding customer or dealing with an unreasonable boss.
It is all about getting people to do what you want them to do. It is about how can we win over and influence others. It is about communicating well, building trust and getting along with all types of people. To do that, there are a few fundamentals that need to be put into place:
- People are different, with different values, needs, standards, and motivation
While most of us agree with the above fact, we still find ourselves interacting with people in one particular way: the way in which we are comfortable. Our behaviour with others falls into a pattern because, being creatures of habit, we are rather predictable.
Most of us are not very “interpersonally flexible”. We are not very good at adjusting ourselves to respond to the difference in people. Not everybody in this world will get along with us, just as we will not get along with everybody. A few might even become “difficult”.
- People whom we see as difficult also see us as difficult
When two persons are not interacting well, the level of trust between them is probably very low. Most of the time, difficulties arise from their differences in personality, needs, and values. People judge others by their own standards and expect others to be like them.
The problem is, everyone is different. They do not all fit into our expectations or fall into our categories. They do not all fit into our expectations or fall into our categories of how people should be. So we end up saying things like, “I don’t understand that person. Why doesn’t she do this?” That person then becomes a difficult person. Chances are, he doesn’t understand us either and probably sees us as difficult people too!
- Managing difficult people requires us to find an appropriate behavioural approach, which will build the trust and confidence of that particular person
When confronted with a difficult person, we focus on trying to change him, particularly his attitude so that he will not be difficult anymore. Yet, we must realize that changing a person is not an easy thing to do.
We should consider changing ourselves instead. We must change our approach and find an appropriate behaviour that will win the person’s trust and confidence. Unless there is trust, getting him to do what you want him to do is going to be tough. We can manage difficult people by learning to be “interpersonally flexible”, that is by understanding the differences in people and adapting ourselves to those differences.
Managing difficult people successfully requires a good understanding of people, lots of empathy, excellent communication skills and a willingness to curb our own ego.
Here is my four-steps approach.
- Assess the situation
Determine if you really dealing with a difficult person or a situation that is temporarily causing the person to behave in ways that are not his usual self. Some questions to ask are:
- Does the person usually behave in this particular way?
- Are your own responses out of proportion to what the situation warrants?
- Was there a particular incident that could have triggered the situation?
If your answer to any of the questions is “yes”, chances are you are not dealing with a difficult person – just a difficult situation which needs time and a cooling-off period to bring back to the norm.
- Know what you are and how you are seen by others
Understanding yourself is the first step to understanding others. Knowing the negative side of your behaviour gives you an insight as to why the person is difficult to you.
- Do not wish for the other person to be different and do not expect him to be like you
The most difficult thing to do is not to impose your own judgement on others and we all have a tendency to. Try a little understanding and empathy. You are in control when you know the difficult person’s needs and you will then have the power to influence when you satisfy those needs.
I believe that one of the greatest mistakes in dealing with people lies in our tendency to wonder, “Why can’t he be a little more like me?”
- Get communication going with him and determine what you need to do in order to gain his trust
When there is no communication, there is no opportunity for a situation to improve or a conflict to be resolved. It, therefore, becomes important that you keep the communication lines open in order to retain the possibility of turning the other person around.
I always believe in being patient and waiting for a positive outcome. However, in cases where the relationship is for a little value to you, or you feel that it is taking more time and effort than it is worth, then you may want to walk away from it all.
If it is a positive outcome you want, your strategy would be to build trust with the other person. This takes time, patience, “interpersonal flexibility” and lots of sacrifices. If your relationship with this person is an important one, then it is all worthwhile
Another way of looking at this is to chalk it down as a learning experience. See this as an opportunity to enhance your personal capabilities.
There are 4 factors to establish trust:
- Congruence: What I say is what I mean.
- Reliability: What I say I will do, I do.
- Acceptance: I accept your views/ points and will not manipulate you.
- Openness: I will be open with you and will inform you.
A difficult person may see you as manipulative or insincere. Unless he can trust you, turning him around will be difficult. Through using a behavioural approach that fits his needs, you can build trust with him.
Difficult people are not impossible – they are just different.
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