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.

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Listen your way to success

You are probably thinking that I have lost my marbles with the title of this post, however stay with me.

We put so much emphasis on clever pitches, presentations and influencing people (all important) in meetings or waxing lyrical to our partners and family about our day that we tend not to consider our listening skills.

Are we truly listening or are we just waiting for our chance to put across our point of view that matches our agenda / objective, maybe even satisfying our ego?

Test yourself; do you do any of these in

Important meetings

  • Think about the amount of work you have already on your desk
  • Think about the previous meeting that didn’t go so well
  • Check your blackberry etc.?
  • Concentrate solely on what you want or your ideas
  • On telephone conferences put yourself on mute and work your way through emails
  • Take copious amounts of notes

At home

  • Talk about your day in front of the telly, computer or whilst doing something else

If you have mentally ticked yes to any of these then you may not be ‘living in the moment’ and truly listening and have the potential to miss important chances to communicate or influence someone in the most effective way. You may be treating symptoms not the root cause and so they are less likely to see the merits in your solution. Switch off any ‘interference’ that can affect your listening.

‘I have so much work and so many meetings that I need to multi-task’ is a common objection to this, however this is more about saying yes rather than no which I will cover in future post.

Listening effectively will help time management as you will not have to cover the same ground again; you have closed the sale or articulated your point or feelings in a persuasive way.

Stephen covey said ‘seek to understand before being understood’ – 7 Habits of Highly Effective people. https://www.stephencovey.com/ (his new 8th habit is great too)

He talks about listening with your ears, eyes and heart

5 levels of listening

5. Empathetic – as active however, you are putting yourself in their shoes, noting body language, tone, pace and volume of speech

4. Active – Verbal and non-verbal nods, asking pertinent questions, recapping offering relevant insights or challenges

3. Selective – Hearing what you want to hear

2. Pretending – Nodding dog syndrome

1. Ignoring – off in your own wee world – lights are on but nobody is home

Ok so sometimes I am in the zones of 1 – 3 (clothes shopping springs to mind!) I am not perfect. It does take hard work and effort to listen well

If you have an important meeting then you need to be in zone 5 as sometimes… what is not being said is as important as what is.

Ever heard someone say ‘I dont need solutions or help I just want someone to listen’

So my challenge is to practice empathetic listening at least once a day and record how you get on. You might want to start with family members or friends, remove any distractions TV etc. sit down and ask them about their day and stay in zone 5!

Feel free to post results in the comments box. Hope you are having a great week