The Employers' Association

The Employers’ Association (TEA) is a not-for-profit employers’ association, formed in 1939, with offices in Grand Rapids serving the West Michigan employer community. We help more than 600 member companies maximize employee productivity and minimize employer liability through human resources and management advice, training, survey data, and consulting services.

TEA is in the business of helping people. This blog is intended to address human issues, concerns and the things that impact people - be they self-perpetuated or externally imposed. Feel free to respond to the thoughts presented here, for without each other, we are nothing!

Saturday, January 12, 2013

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT PEOPLE

I am admittedly more patient than most and often overly emphasize the positives a difficult person contributes to resolving situations rather than dwelling upon the negatives they might bring to the table. If I can see more good than bad (and I tend to look at the world through rose-colored glasses), I will probably remain tolerant of someone’s shortcomings as I seek to recognize and leverage their strengths. I have always attempted to encourage individual creativity or contribution by maximizing their impact and subtly molding the more disturbing qualities a difficult person might express into actions more conducive to improving the team rather than making too big a deal over the small distractions they create. I tend to focus on results rather than on process – feeling that as long as the objective has been achieved, why should I worry about how it was done (as long as it was done ethically, legally and within my personal framework of values)? I am less concerned about who get the recognition or receives the praise for an action than I am about how the action ultimately advanced the whole. I probably live more in a world of “where can we go” than in one of “who’s driving the bus.” Over time, though, I have come to learn several things about people – perhaps the most significant being that some are just plain “difficult!”

Difficult people often like to speak their mind and get their way. They do not like being over-ruled or having their actions corrected without a solid, rationale reason (and even then, if the reason is another’s rather than their own, may not accept it easily). Their contributions to a group can be minimized by their lack of acceptance and their suggestions overlooked due to their seeming dominance in getting their own words heard (a group does not like a cocky know-it-all or one whom never gives recognition to others) regardless how valuable the contribution. Difficult people tend to:

• Talk more than they listen
• Act more than they consider
• Hide their own inadequacies by accentuating the weaknesses or mistakes of others

Rather than continuously raising their own level of performance, difficult people tend to set themselves as the “bar” while keeping others below by actively and intentionally diminishing their ability to contribute. Difficult people focus on themselves, their own actions and their personal feelings as they seek to “get their own way.” Due to their prevalence (and the number of issues their actions create), it often seems easier to avoid confrontation with difficult people than to address it head on. To escape the problem or avoid the confrontation we may:

• Ignore difficult people altogether (hoping they will go away)
• Minimize conflict by feigning interest (whether or not we intend to act on what they say) then do what we were planning to do without regard to what we may have head
• Take intentional action to avoid interacting with them whenever possible (we need not change our actions act if we never know alternatives)
• Put up a seemingly strong front, resisting what they say UNTIL we are beaten down to the point we give in and “do things their way” rather than arguing anymore, or
• Worry ourselves sick in anticipation of a problem without ever simply addressing the issue so that it goes away

While selfishly effective (except, perhaps, for the last choice), do any of these responses really resolve the problems that difficult people may cause OR are we simply avoiding the obvious as we escape into an internal “safe place” that may cause others to silently suffer with us as we ignore the pain and live with the ramifications?  To effectively deal with difficult people, we must:

• Identify a common goal
• Discuss how the goal is to be accomplished
• Identify the “road marks” we expect to see along the way that will verify and validate our progress
• Assign definitive ownership to individual actions THEN
• Establish (clearly and concisely) who will do what, who is in charge, and what will happen should an expected task NOT be accomplished
• Draw definitive lines, assign tangible responsibilities and allow acceptable “room for error” as things progress to their logical conclusions

Whether interacting with “easy” or with “difficult” people, say what you plan to do THEN bring your words to fruition with timely and intentional actions. When establishing accountability and consequences, say ONLY what you are willing to follow-through on (NEVER say “this will happen or else” unless you are willing to deliver the promised consequences should the action occur. Making hollow threats and establishing artificial conditions minimizes both your credibility and your effectiveness within any relationship). To establish a situation that allows both you and your "difficult counterpart" to win, look at the big picture - seek the mountaintop rather than the valley.  It may be more work but the view from the top makes it all worthwhile!