There’s no avoiding it. You’re bound to come across someone who’s difficult to deal with. It’s inevitable as soon as you add different personalities, experiences, and backgrounds to the mix. They may be someone we report to or someone who reports to us. Or they may be a peer, a vendor, or a client. The bottom line is that it’s going to happen and generally can’t be avoided. If we are to be effective as a leader, we must become good at is dealing with those difficult people.
Whoever they are, they usually cause anxiety, frustration, concern, and/or anger in us. The irony is that when we become anxious, frustrated, concerned or angry, we ourselves, can become difficult to deal with. Consequently, it is imperative that we become adept at dealing with them. Occasionally we can avoid the person altogether, but more often than not, it’s a relationship we have to address.
One course of action is simply to tolerate the other person. This course of action (or more accurately, inaction) is one which avoids confrontation and maintains the status quo. Productivity remains consistent and there’s no risk of workplace “drama”. Unfortunately, by not dealing with the situation, you end up perpetuating a number of counterproductive dynamics. You end up expending valuable energy by “tolerating” an unsatisfactory situation. It affects your attitude, your thoughts, and your productivity. Additionally, in your attempt to shield or isolate yourself from this person, they end up feeling neglected and unappreciated. When that happens, they tend to “check out”, becoming complacent and apathetic – simply going through the motions at work. It’s not a very friuitful course of action.
There’s one other negative dynamic that exists when we tolerate a difficult person. Although it may feel like the issue is between the two of you, in fact, a difficult person affects your entire team. When you allow a difficult person to persist, it reflects on your leadership style and your values. This, in turn, negatively impacts your ability to lead effectively. Additionally, the age-old adage holds true, “One bad apple spoils the barrel,” as will be evidenced by the people who’ll come forth voicing their relief once the difficult person is gone.
Another course of action might be to reflect on our own behaviors and attitudes, and decide to change ourselves. While this occasionally may be appropriate, generally it’s not. (A good test is to observe whether there are many “difficult” people on your team.) In fact, our initial reaction to this course of action might be, “Why should I be the one to change? It’s clear the other person is the one with the problem.” Not only would that be valid, but it sheds some light on how to handle the situation, because if our thought is to ask the other person to change, their reaction would most likely be the same. “Why should I be the one to change?” This of course poses a problem because in fact, that person generally IS the problem.
The answer to this dilemma is to have an honest and transparent conversation with the person. As a leader, we have the opportunity and an obligation to develop people and help them grow. We need to be compassionate, yet strong. We need to be empathetic, yet work change their perspective. We accomplish this by acknowledging the situation and by asking good questions. This course of action helps us understand their perspectives and motivations. By doing this, not only can you positively impact their enjoyment of and satisfaction with their work, but you’ll help them to be more effective and productive. If nothing else, you’ll help them gain clarity about themselves and then help them (in a positive way) move on to another opportunity which better suits their skills and their perspectives.
Mastering the ability to effectively deal with difficult people will enhance your leadership effectiveness and enrich the lives of the people around you.