Dealing with Difficult People

Name someone you consider difficult. When I say difficult, I am referring to those who can be persistently stubborn, irrationally rebellious,consistently annoying or rude in their actions. They might be super achievers but their behavior can make you wish they would just leave. Or they might be poor performers in addition to being difficult. In this article though, let’s refer to them simply as teammate. It will serve as the first step in separating the person from the problems they can create.

Personalities are often developed based on our life stories. Often teammates who rebel against authority are fighting their own insecurities. Teammates who constantly disagree with the team, might have doubts about how well they are accepted by the team. Teammates who behave disrespectfully, might be struggling in life even if they appear to not care about anything. In a lot of cases if you change your attitude towards this teammate, the probability of behavioral change increases. Labeling someone negatively does not usually help anyone and definitely not the situation.

The action step for you is to establish your position in the relationship. Your confidence in who you are in relation to the teammate can impact your ability to handle situations better. If you allow the teammate to boss you around and get away with their actions, it will result in someone eventually getting fired or resigning. Watch out for signs of power play or victim mentality during your interactions. Being more aware of those will enable you to tailor your reaction more appropriately. Even if this teammate actually happens to be your boss, you can play your part in managing the relationship.

I believe most of the time, it is our ability to manage the relationship and the situation that determines how difficult someone can be. There certainly are those who just are determined to cause trouble all the time but a lot of people are simply difficult when you don’t manage that relationship well. Instead of avoiding the person and failing to deal with critical issues, try to maintain a polite positive relationship with the teammate.

Keep your emotions in check when dealing with a difficult situation. Often since the teammate has created problems in the past, we naturally view any future actions based on past motivations. However, their intentions might be different this time. Therefore, handle each situation more factually. It will enable you to control your emotions and result in better resolution. This does not mean that you fail to document the facts when an incident happens. Remember to document repeated incidents for future reference. This will also help you keep the facts clear and will be useful if disciplinary action is required in the future.

Avoid delaying dealing with problem issues. Your team or goals might be getting affected by them and the longer you ignore the problems the teammate is causing, the more damage you allow. The post on effective constructive feedback states how it is much easier to provide quicker feedback than when you delay it for longer than required. If you are already beginning to think of issues that you need to address with your teammate, take a few minutes to read that article on how to provide feedback effectively. Sometimes setting consequences to actions are an important step when managing behavior or performance issues. Whenever possible, refer to your company’s HR processes when setting consequences.

Be consistent in your interactions with the teammate. If an action is unacceptable, don’t be more accepting of it one day and upset about it the next. Being polite while being assertive can have powerful impacts. Be honest and straightforward whenever possible. Exclude the drama though. If being blunt in your reaction results in a dramatic throw of tantrums, it is best to approach things differently. You might notice that instructions will work better than criticism with them. Be more intentional with your interactions with the teammate.

These strategies should help as you work with your teammate. However, if all your efforts fail, don’t hesitate to ask your supervisor or Human Resource staff to intervene.

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