11 ways to deal with ‘difficult’ people

Thought I would share an Extract from a great article by By Bruna Martinuzzi
Author, Presenting with Credibility: Practical Tools and Techniques for Effective Presentations

1. Be clear about the issue. To prepare for the conversation, you need to ask yourself two important questions: “What exactly is the behavior that is causing the problem?” and “What is the impact that the behavior is having on you, the team or the organization?” You need to reach clarity for yourself so you can articulate the issue in two or three succinct statements. If not, you risk going off on a tangent during the conversation. The lack of focus on the central issue will derail the conversation and sabotage your intentions.

2. Know your objective. What do you want to accomplish with the conversation? What is the desired outcome? What are the non-negotiables? As English philosopher Theodore Zeldin put it: A successful conversation “doesn’t just reshuffle the cards: it creates new cards.” What are the new cards that you want to have in your hands by the end of the conversation? Once you have determined this, plan how you will close the conversation. Don’t end without clearly expressed action items. What is the person agreeing to do? What support are you committed to provide? What obstacles might prevent these remedial actions from taking place? What do you both agree to do to overcome potential obstacles? Schedule a follow up to evaluate progress and definitively reach closure on the issue at hand.

3. Adopt a mindset of inquiry. Spend a little time to reflect on your attitude toward the situation and the person involved. What are your preconceived notions about it? Your mindset will predetermine your reaction and interpretations of the other person’s responses, so it pays to approach such a conversation with the right mindset—which in this context is one of inquiry. A good doctor diagnoses a situation before reaching for his prescription pad. This applies equally to a leader. Be open to hear first what the other person has to say before reaching closure in your mind. Even if the evidence is so clear that there is no reason to beat around the bush, we still owe it to the person to let them tell their story. A good leader remains open and seeks a greater truth in any situation. The outcome of adopting this approach might surprise you.

4. Manage the emotions. Most of us were likely raised to believe that emotions need to be left at the door. We now know that this is an old-school approach that is no longer valid in today’s work environments. It is your responsibility as a leader to understand and manage the emotions in the discussion. The late Robert Plutchik, professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, created a Wheel of Emotions to show that emotions follow a path. What starts as an annoyance, for example, can move to anger and, in extreme cases, escalate to rage. We can avoid this by being mindful of preserving the person’s dignity—and treating them with respect—even if we totally disagree with them.

In some cases, you may have to respond to a person’s tears. In the video “How To Handle Tears At Work,” Anne Kreamer, author of It’s Always Personal: Navigating Emotion in the New Workplace, provides several strategies. These include acknowledging the tears rather than ignoring them, offering the person a tissue to provide an opportunity to gather his or her thoughts, and recognizing that the tears communicate a problem to be addressed.

5. Be comfortable with silence. There will be moments in the conversation where a silence occurs. Don’t rush to fill it with words. Just as the pause between musical notes helps us appreciate the music, so the periodic silence in the conversation allows us to hear what was said and lets the message sink in. A pause also has a calming effect and can help us connect better. For example, if you are an extrovert, you’re likely uncomfortable with silence, as you’re used to thinking while you’re speaking. This can be perceived as steamrolling or overbearing, especially if the other party is an introvert. Introverts want to think before they speak. Stop talking and allow them their moment—it can lead to a better outcome.

6. Preserve the relationship. A leader who has high emotional intelligence is always mindful to limit any collateral damage to a relationship. It takes years to build bridges with people and only minutes to blow them up. Think about how the conversation can fix the situation, without erecting an irreparable wall between you and the person.

7. Be consistent. Ensure that your objective is fair and that you are using a consistent approach. For example, if the person thinks you have one set of rules for this person and a different set for another, you’ll be perceived as showing favoritism. Nothing erodes a relationship faster than perceived inequality. Employees have long-term memories of how you handled situations in the past. Aim for consistency in your leadership approach. We trust a leader who is consistent because we don’t have to second-guess where they stand on important issues such as culture, corporate values and acceptable behaviors.

8. Develop your conflict resolution skills. Conflict is a natural part of human interaction. Managing conflict effectively is one of the vital skills of leadership. Have a few, proven phrases that can come in handy in crucial spots.

9. Watch your reaction to thwarting ploys. In a Harvard Business Review article, Sarah Green lists nine common mistakes we make when we conduct a difficult conversation. One of these mistakes is how we handle thwarting ploys, such as stonewalling, sarcasm and accusing. The best advice is to simply address the ploy openly and sincerely. As the author says, if the ploy from your counterpart is stubborn unresponsiveness, you can candidly say, “I don’t know how to interpret your silence.” Disarm the ploy by labeling the observed behavior.

10. Choose the right place to have the conversation. Calling people into your office may not be the best strategy. Sitting in your own turf, behind your desk, shifts the balance of power too much on your side. Even simple body language, such as leaning forward toward the person rather than leaning back on your chair, can carry a subtle message of your positive intentions; i.e., “We’re in this together. Let’s problem solve so that we have a better workplace.” Consider holding the meeting in a neutral place such as a meeting room where you can sit adjacent to each other without the desk as a barrier. Don’t exclude the coffee shop.

11. Know how to begin. Some people put off having the conversation because they don’t know how to start. The best way to start is with a direct approach. “John, I would like to talk with you about what happened at the meeting this morning when Bob asked about the missed deadline. Let’s grab a cup of coffee tomorrow morning to chat.” Or: “Linda, I want to go over some of the issues with XYZ customer and some concerns that I have. Let’s meet tomorrow morning to problem-solve.”

Being upfront is the authentic and respectful approach. You don’t want to ambush people by surprising them about the nature of the “chat.” Make sure your tone of voice signals discussion and not inquisition, exploration.

3 Factor – Employee Engagement


3 Factor – Employee Engagement

I recently attended a talk by Sir Harry Burns the Chief Medical Officer for Scotland around his study around early intervention with young people in order to empower them to turn their lives into something more positive. He is a fantastic presenter and the evidence he has collected around brain development and what can positively or negatively affect it is fascinating and made me think about how leaders could adopt this to enrich the life’s of their employees.

I love simplifying things and what I took away was 3 things that help empower people are

Control – having a real sense of control over their working lives, the how, what, when etc

Sense of Purpose – knowing that you are making a difference or heading towards a worthwhile goal

Community– seeing that you are part of the team, company,organisation etc

So how do you do this, well you can hold back on  the fancy questionnaires and start having conversations with your staff around these 3 pillars and really listening to them and empowering them. As Sir Harry Burns talked about, this is not about doing things to people it’s about enabling them to do it for themselves.

Here’s a crazy idea, you could do it in 30 days. Here’s a Ted talk about just that

Let me know what you think about employee engagement in the comments section below and if you would like to read more about how to build the 3 factors into your working life.

Positive Politics at work

Tips on positive politics at work.

‘Politics is showbusiness for ugly people’. No matter how ‘ugly’ it is and how frustrating it may be for you as a leader politics at work is something that you are going to have to deal with like any other challenge at work.

Why work politics are inevitable:

  • Some people have more power than others, either through hierarchy or                 other basis of influence.
  • For many people, gaining promotion is important, and this can create competition between individuals, or misalignment between the team’s objectives and those of individuals within it.
  • Most people care passionately about decisions at work and this encourages political behavior as they seek to get their way .
  • Decisions at work are impacted by both work-related goals and personal factors, so there is further scope for goal conflict.
  • People and teams within organizations often have to compete for limited resources; this can lead to a kind of “tribal conflict” where teams compete to satisfy their needs and objectives, even when this is against the greater good.

People Power not Pay Grades

Office Politics often circumvent the formal Hierarchy. Sit back and watch for a while and then note who has the most people power as well as traditional grades and job titles.

  • Who are the real influencers?
  • Who has authority but doesn’t exercise it?
  • Who is respected?
  • Who champions or mentors others?
  • Who is “the brains behind the organisation”?

Social Networks at work

Ever wonderred why social networking is so popular today? Well before the internet it was happening in work and life and it is an intrinsic part of human nature. In order to use positive politics well at work you need to understand the social networks present.

  • Who gets along with whom?
  • Are there groups or cliques that have formed?
  • Who is involved in interpersonal conflict?
  • Who has the most trouble getting along with others?
  • What is the basis for the interrelationship? Friendship, respect, manipulation?
  • How does the influence flow between the parties?

Build Your Social Network

Now that you know how the existing relationships work, you need to build your own social network accordingly.

  • Do not be afraid of politically powerful people in the organization. Get to know them.
  • Ensure you have relationships that cross the formal hierarchy in all directions (peers, bosses, executives).
  • Start to build relationships with those who have the informal power.
  • Build your relationships on trust and respect – avoid empty flattery.
  • Be friendly with everyone but don’t align yourself with one group or another.
  • Be a part of multiple networks – so you have a wider picture of how things work and make more informed choices

Listen Carefully
When you spend more time listening, you are less likely to say  something that will come back to bite you later. Also, people  like people who listen to them.

Make the Most of Your Network

As you build your relationships, you need to learn to use them  to stay clear of negative politicking, and also to promote yourself  and your team positively. It is up to you to communicate your  own and your team’s abilities and successes to the right people,  and you do this through positive political action. Use your network  to:

  • Gain access to information.
  • Build visibility of your achievements.
  • Improve difficult relationships.
  • Attract opportunities where you can to shine.
  • Seek out ways to make yourself, your team  and your boss look good.

Neutralize Negative Play

Get to know these people better and be courteous to them, but always be very careful what you say to them.

  • Understand what motivates these people and what their goals are, and so learn how to avoid or counter the impact of their negative politicking.
  • Be aware that these people typically don’t think much of their talents (that’s why they rely on aggressive politicking to get ahead).

Govern Your Own Behavior

Don’t pass on gossip, questionable judgments, spread rumors – when you hear something, take a day to consider how much credibility it has.

  • Rise above interpersonal conflicts – do not get sucked into arguments.
  • Maintain your integrity at all times – always remain professional
  • Be positive – avoid whining and complaining.
  • Be confident and assertive but not aggressive.
  • When voicing objections or criticism, make sure you take an organisational perspective not a personal one.
  • Don’t rely on confidentiality – assume things will be disclosed and so decide what you should reveal accordingly.
  • Be a model of integrity to your team, and discourage politics within it.

I would love to hear about how you deal with politics at work, please use the comment box to let me know your experiences with it.

Some help when making those networks… a great TED Video

Amy Cuddy’s research on body language reveals that we can change other people’s perceptions — and even our own body chemistry — simply by changing body positions

Strength Based Development for Managers

Strengths based development is nothing new in sports coaching and development; you don’t train someone with a talent for sprinting, how to be a marathon runner. You identify what someone is good at then in the case of a sprinter you develop and coach them to get better in order to get quicker.

Yet as leaders in business, we have possibly all been managed by someone who will look at a development plan as an instrument to develop weaknesses! This flies in the face of research that shows that when you manage people who are using their strengths they will be up to 23% more productive, they are more likely to stay with the company and be true advocates for that company. If they are more productive and engaged they are less likely to be absent from work. All of these things have the potential to add to your bottom line.

If you don’t believe me, simply reflect on what percentage of your strengths you use at your work then think about what you could do at work if you used more of your strengths.

Ok, you say thats great in theory, but how do you do it?

Get to know your team

1. Use a Type indicator e.g. MBTI, DISC etc. They give an indication of how people like to communicate with the world, what energises them. They aren’t about skills you say, and you would be right, however, it will help you and your team enhance how you understand and communicate with each other, but also what gives them energy and energy at work is golddust!

2. Find out what their values are, not the companies. People are more and more looking at the purpose of their / their companies role over and above the ‘widgets’ they produce. This is especially true of Gen Y and they are if they are not already the future of your company. Help them link their values to working in your team.

3. Get everyone to do a SWOT analysis and do one for the team. Strengths, Weaknesses (what they are not good at but can do) Opportunities (strengths they haven’t as yet been able to utlise in the team) Threats (things they don’t like doing, arent that great at doing and developing these skills will be a waste of everybodies time)

4. Development plans – Concentrate on developing Strengths and Opportunities. Only develop anything under the other two headings if they are crucial to the role.

5. If you can allocate work according to strengths then do so in a fair way.

6. Review, reflect,give and receive feedback on a regular basis about how it is working.

It would be great to hear your thoughts on Strength based development, so feel free to comment.

Hope you have a fantastic weekend

Finally, as a tradition on my site I like to add a TED video.

Simon Sinek has a simple but powerful model for inspirational leadership all starting with a golden circle and the question “Why?”  His examples include Apple, Martin Luther King, and the Wright brothers

If you hire people just because they can do a job, they’ll work for your money. But if you hire people who believe what you believe, they’ll work for you with blood and sweat and tears.” (Simon Sinek)

The 3 R’s to stop you being overwhelmed

Everyone at times can feel as if we have the weight of the world on your shoulders. Many people will grin and bare it, work extra hours and hope that things will get better.

We start saying things like ‘ I wish I had more time in the day’

Sometimes we get through this and sometimes it can have an effect on our home life and health.

The 3R’s is a technique to help.

Relax – Easier said than done, however, putting more and more pressure on yourself is not going to solve anything. Someone once said to me when I was stressing about getting everything done before going on holiday ‘Is anybody going to be physically hurt? Will the department grind to a halt? Is a week away from your desk going to matter?Who can support you when you are away?’. They got me to be more rational about the situation and for me to start seeing who could help.

Ultimately, if you don’t relax and look for support you will burn out and who does that help?

Taking emoition out the equation helps with the next stage.

Review – Take time to review what you have to do

What can you control? Break down everything that you think you have to do using the matrix below. In order to feel more in control and more calm, break down that weight from your shoulders into smaller chunks. What is urgent and what is important. NB. if home life is important to you it should be in the High Importance and Urgent box!

What can you influence? – This is about getting support. We cannot be all things to all people, think about

  • Can I get extensions on timescales?
  • Am I the right person for this task?
  • Am I taking on things because I want to please people around me?
  • Can I delegate some of this work?
  • Is my ego and preference for being in control stopping me from asking for support?

What is outside my control? – Sometimes we put ourselves under pressure by worrying about stuff that is outside our control and influence. It’s a waste of your energy and time. Accept that it is outside your control and concentrate on what you can change.


Just as wehave to re-boot computers when they have taken on new updates or are working inefficiently we should re-boot ourselves after the above.

Think about your

Focus – Stick to what you have planned. Don’t fall back into dealing with box 4

Openness – Be open to other peoples offers of support and advice. Be flexible, tasks will move around the box

Energy – take breaks even if it is just for a few minutes to get your energy back up. Imagine what it will feel like to tackle what you have prioritised.

I haven’t had a TED video on my posts for a wee while so enjoy this one. Funny and helps to look at our perception










The Positive Functions of a Team

My last post was about high performing teams, however I wanted to talk about teams that aren’t at that stage or are having challenges.

Patrick Lencioni’s Book the 5 Dysfunctions of a Team is an extremely useful reference, however, one slight issue is with its termanology when used with in a session. As soon as the word ‘dysfunctional’ is used with a team you can almost see the barriers coming up.

So flip it around and talk about the Positive Functions of a team

  • Building trust— how to be vulnerable and offer support within the group
  • The impact of constructive conflict—seeking constructive passionate debate
  • Personal commitment— Exhibiting true buy-in for group decisions with action and advocacy
  • Transparent accountability— Agreeing team behavioral values and robust roles and responsibilities
  • Celebrating / Enhancing results—focusing on personal success and team success / As a group indentifying what needs to be better and how to take action as a team

Some businesses will build in Key Performance Indicators etc to try and remedy this and some success can be gained from this, however, it can be seen as a tick box exercise at reviews or traded against other performance results e.g. I am the top salesperson…

In order to see a profound effect actions and agreements need to come from the team also:

  • Any discussions / exercises need to be explicit that this is not about blame it is about taking the team to the next level
  • A skilled impartial facilitator will help discussions; where possible it shouldn’t be the boss facilitating
  • Confidentiality within the team must be explicit
  • Make it interactive with short sessions
  • Give yourself more time than you need and ensure that each area gets the time it needs, however ensure that discussion doesn’t go round in circles
  • Agree rules of feedback and format e.g. has to Balanced, objective and specific, (hotseat feedback on the day or confidential questionaires before event)
  • Ensure clear and measurable actions are captured
  • Review impact regularly

Tips – Just a few free ideas to get you started on addressing the different elements.Full explanations of how to run these would take a few pages!

Building trust— how to be vulnerable and offer support within the group

Get team to do personal SWOT analysis (anomously, number each one) and ask the team to match up their perceived weakness and threats with strengths and opportunites on other SWOT sheets

The impact of constructive conflict—seeking constructive passionate debate

I really like Thomas Klinman Conflict styles as it raises awareness of personal conflict styles

Personal commitment— Exhibiting true buy-in for group decisions with action and advocacy

Ask team to write suggestions on post its of how remove ambiguity and make better decisions that gain commitment

Transparent accountability— Agreeing team behavioral values and robust roles and responsibilities

Get the team to write down their top 5 personal values at work e.g. honesty, trust etc

Then get them ‘grafitti’ style to write them on a flipchart then task them to List the group top 7 or 10 values in the team. Then discuss how they can bring this to life in the team

Celebrating / Enhancing results—focusing on personal success and team success / As a group indentifying what needs to be better and how to take action as a team

Ask the team to come up with 5 commitments that will help them focus on personal and team results

Always happy to hear comments around your own experiences or thoughts on the post.

Hope you have a great weekend

Some helpful links for 5 Dysfunctions of a Team




High Performing Teams – My Top 12 Characteristics




There are many versions of what makes a high performing team and I thought I would write down my top 12. I plan to expand on the characteristics in another post

If you want to use this at a team meeting, let me know and I will also explain how to do an exercise in a future post.

Let me know what you think – what you would add or subtract from the list?

  1. Shared Goals, Vision & Rewards
  2. Open communication
  3. Detailed Responsibilities
  4. Feedback given and accepted as the intent is to make things better
  5. Awareness of individual values and respect shown for these
  6. Awareness of each individuals skills and how they can be utilised within the team
  7. Sharing of business network and knowledge base
  8. Individual autonomy to make decisions
  9. Innovation, creativity given equality with process and detail
  10. Agreed methods for conflict resolution
  11. Positive outlook
  12. Participative Leadership Styles

You know I love TED videos so I have attached:

At TEDxUSC, David Logan talks about the five kinds of tribes that humans naturally form — in schools, workplaces, even the driver’s license bureau. By understanding our shared tribal tendencies, we can help lead each other to become better individuals