Are You Dealing with Difficult People at Work?
When it comes to dealing with difficult people, the secret lies not with changing others but in changing your perceptions of what’s really going on.
I am going to be blunt....
“When it comes to difficult people, it’s usually NOT as much about “them,” as it is about you.”
While it is true that some people may intentionally go out of their way to be difficult, most “difficult people” are acting from a place of ignorance and are unaware of the impact of their actions on you.
In my experience, difficult people are merely triggers to the emotional work that we need to pay attention to in our own lives.
Too often we blame, criticise, get defensive, judge and even take personally the words and actions from a difficult “person”.
When we do this, we have gone below the line.
And, it is hard to develop positive relationships when we think and view someone as “difficult, hard to get along with, inconsiderate” etc.
Am I right?
Essentially, we have become “difficult” ourselves and this behaviour does not usually help us move forward.
A Simple Example of How Difficult Situations Arise
Meet Sally. Sally is a people style who gets her energy from listening and engaging with others. She has a quiet and thoughtful approach to getting work done.
Sally really doesn’t enjoy working with her work colleague, Ray because she sees Ray as forceful and demanding.
- He rarely asks Sally how she is doing and only seems to interact with her when he wants something from her.
- She doesn’t like his approach and tries to avoid him as much as she can.
Meet Ray. Ray is a task style - he prefers getting to the point (and likes others to do so too) and likes his communication concise and no-nonsense. He has a loud voice and is confident in telling others his views.
Ray sees Sally as a soft, quiet person who lacks direction and a voice.
- She is a useful resource in the team but not someone he particularly respects.
- He sure wouldn't be seen hanging around with Sally, that's a fact!
What do these Two Perspectives Mean in the Workplace?
In both these instances, both parties are viewing each other from their own personal “Behavioural or Communication Styles” and because these styles are so different, they find it hard to connect and communicate.
These perspectives are getting in the way of positive feelings needed to form good relationships.
As a leader, your job is to get these two team members seeing the best in each other rather than the worst.
But, you have a challenge:
Our Brain is Set for Threat, NOT Reward
And, because our brain is set to ‘threat” mode rather than “reward” mode, we have a tendency to get “activated or triggered” by people and situations we see as a threat.
Even if the so-called threat is just in our heads!
Notice Your "Triggers" When Dealing with Difficult People
A more emotionally intelligent and mature response as a leader is to take a step back and to notice the triggers that are “activating” us.
When we do this, we start to notice patterns of behaviour in a certain type of situation or when dealing with a certain type of personal style
It’s useful to notice these patterns because by gathering enough evidence, you can analyse and where necessary, replace negative thoughts and actions with more appropriate and productive responses.
This is what I meant when I said:
“When it comes to dealing with difficult people, the secret lies not with changing others but in changing your perceptions of what’s really going on.”
Two Techniques for Dealing with
Difficult People and Behaviours
In the work I do with leaders and their teams, I have developed two simple techniques to help you better manage and deal with both your triggers and the emotional response this creates in you.
I refer to these as the techniques of:
- Technique One: “Notice, Name & Replace” for self-work AND
- Technique Two: “Notice, Name & Nail” for working with inappropriate behaviours in others.
TECHNIQUE ONE: NOTICE, NAME AND REPLACE
This technique is helpful when observing patterns in the trigger situations
you find yourself consistently being activated by.
If you were to write the examples of times where you have noticed the following:
- Negative emotions such as blaming, being critical about, getting defensive, judging others and taking personally the words and actions (Mental symptoms)
- Getting tearful, noticing your heart rate increasing, getting sweaty palms, a ball in your stomach (Physical symptoms)
These mental and physical symptoms are vital clues that indicate your triggers.
Is this you - out on a limb and trying to hold it together?
If you can notice the pattern, you can start to put in place replacement actions and thoughts that will be more helpful to you in those situations.
In effect, you are programming your brain to stop going into “threat” mode in those instances by giving it a different programme to run.
The stories you tell yourself about people are not helpful and often can do more harm to you and the relationship.
TECHNIQUE TWO: NOTICE, NAME AND NAIL
Working with inappropriate behaviours in others
This technique is helpful when those you work with have gone below the line and its affecting you,
the team or the organisation
I often get asked, “Kerry Anne, should you really overlook rude behaviour – all this stuff about working on yourself and seeing the best in people doesn’t really apply to my situation of dealing with a rude, obnoxious person at work.”
My simple answer is that of course you should not put up with inappropriate behaviour, at work or anywhere else in your life!
This second technique is in response to inappropriate behaviour from those you interact with at work.
It follows the same framework of becoming conscious and aware of the situation and what you observe and hear in it.
Where someone is being inappropriate, it is important to notice and name the behaviour you are experiencing and then to “nail it”.
Nailing Difficult Behaviour to the Wall
Three Steps to Asserting Yourself Respectfully and Professionally when Dealing with Difficult People
You do this by firmly and politely sharing with the offending party , what happened from your perspective, the impact and consequence of their inappropriate behaviour on you and end off by making a request for them to change their behaviour.
- The situation from your point of view
- The impact and consequence of their inappropriate behaviour on you, others or the organisation
- End off by making a request for them to change their behaviour
An Example of the Notice, Name and Nail Technique in Action
"Michael, when we worked together yesterday on the “Whatchamacallit Account” and you raised your voice at me over your views on how things should be run on the account, I felt upset by what I see as disrespectful behaviour. I’d prefer if we are to work together that we speak to each other calmly and respectfully."
The key to delivering this message comes from the leverage you have gained in the “relationship” you have with them:
- The better the relationship, the more of a chance you have of being “heard and understood”.
- The more rapport you have with this person, the easier it is for them to receive your message.
Working together doesn't mean you will always agree with each other, it does however increase the odds of you learning how to work more positively together.
When Difficult People Remain Difficult
If you find that after delivering this message, the difficult person continues to act inappropriately, you can then start to ramp up your level of assertiveness where steps 1 and 2 are the same and where for step 3, instead of making a request at the end, you tell them what you will do if they do not stop their behaviour.
Increasing your levels of assertiveness is about clearly and firmly asserting your boundaries.
An Example of How to Escalate Your Level of Assertiveness – when the difficult person continues with their inappropriate behaviour:
"Ray, I have shared with you on 2 previous occasions how upset I get when you raise your voice at me in a conversation and even though I have requested you to lower your volume, you have not.
If you continue to raise your voice at me when we speak, I will remove myself from the conversation."
OR, escalating the conversation to the next level
"If you continue to raise your voice at me when we speak, I will make a formal complaint,
although this is something I’d prefer not to have to do."
By increasing your levels of assertiveness, you are clearly establishing boundaries when dealing with difficult people and their behaviours.
Whether the person chooses to respect your boundaries or not, your job is to put these in place and to stay above the line.
Yes, I know that this is not as easy as it sounds.
My encouragement is that does however makes for a much better night's sleep, crucial for ensuring your come from a place of
strength as a leader.
By applying these two techniques, you are making sure you give yourself a better chance to stay above the line and live in congruence with your values.
Both of these reasons are sure to keep you sane and keep you focused in your leadership role, irrespective of the other person
And, the bonus is that you become the role model of what positive behaviour in the workplace should look like! And, as a leader, this is crucial.
- We too often and too quickly look outward rather than inward when it comes to dealing with difficult people and situations.
- And, while it is never appropriate for us to accept below the line behaviour it is important that we own our own responses to these situations so that we stay above the line.
- When we stay above the line, we allow our brain (mental) and body (physical) to remain in congruence with our values. And this helps us to sleep better at night because we are not ruminating on what we should have said and done differently – we have positively dealt with the inappropriate person or situation.
Now it’s your turn:
- What techniques do you use to “stay above the line” when others are acting inappropriately?
- How do you manage inappropriate behaviour in the workplace?
- What are your key take-outs for dealing with difficult people from a leadership perspective?
- How could you use the two techniques in your work situation as a leader?
Please leave your comments below – I always enjoy hearing insights, experiences and new ways of dealing with the world
Developing the ability to rise above your own emotions is crucial to staying credible as a leader. The questions above are intended to get you thinking about your own triggers and how you can learn to leverage your differences rather than getting upset when others become "difficult"
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Until next time, I will see you at the top!