If you are a leader sooner or later you will have to deal with difficult people. Difficult people are found in almost every work environment, volunteer team and in our families.
What makes a difficult person?
There are many reasons why someone is difficult but it could include:
- Personality and cultural clashes
- Inability to perform the required role
- Bad attitudes
- Lack of self awareness
Difficulties with people can emerge at any time but often arise once the initial ‘settling in’ stage is over. In teams this is more likely during the storming phase because people are beginning to get to know each other and are working out how and where they fit in the team. It is useful to understand team roles and to have team roles written down in some kind of position description, even if your team is a volunteer one. This will help the team function more smoothly. (I’ll address more about his at a later date)
In my experience, it is best to deal with challenging people quickly. Most people including leaders do not like conflict, but the longer the issue is left the harder it becomes to deal with and the more disruptive it is for the team and the workplace. Having a culture that deals with challenges appropriately does much to create not just an effective work environment but a happy and peaceful one too.
So how do we deal with difficult and challenging people?
The simple answer is to have a process at hand and to understand why the person is challenging.
Here are some tips for dealing with difficult people to create the culture you want.
1. Always check your own motives and attitudes first to ensure that you are approaching the situation with a positive solution focused attitude. Determine if it is a personality clash or if other factors are at play (what is happening at home, health, etc)
2. Give feedback immediately – don’t wait for the yearly or half yearly review. Both positive and negative feedback are best given as close as possible to the incident.Take the person aside and speak to them privately. Organise a meeting or draw them aside from the rest of the team for a conversation and ensure that it is a safe place for both of you.
3. Separate the behaviour from the person and name the behaviour for what it is. Many people lack self awareness and naming the behaviour will help them to build awareness of their behaviour and help them work towards a solution.
4. Listen carefully to the other person and listen for understanding. They may have a good reason for what seems like difficult behaviour. Draw on your own intrapersonal and interpersonal communication skills.
5. Develop an action plan which includes them so that they have input into their own self development and check in with them regularly. This could include mentoring of some kind.
What if the challenging person is simply inept? What recourse do you have?
What are the persons strengths and abilities?
Are they in a role where they are able to use these strengths? (Use their position description to help understand the requirements of their role).This is particularly important in any role but especially in a volunteer role.
What are they passionate about?
Maybe they are just not a good fit for that role and they would be a better fit elsewhere where they can express their passion.
It’s not always possible to redirect so what do you do?
A skills audit is a useful tool. Match the skills they have with the skills required for the role. This could be in the form of a skills matrix or a list their skills against their job description. What are the gaps? Most skills can be learned or improved on with time, training and coaching.
So what about coaching and mentoring?
Coaching is a useful tool that can help someone overcome their challenging behaviours or perceived lack of skill In the workplace (or volunteer community). Pair each person up with a more experienced and skilled person, set goals and develop an action plan; provide them with opportunities to learn and grow and to reflect on their actions and progress.
Are you an up and coming leader looking to build confidence in your leadership? Or are you a manager or leader wanting to develop your up and coming leaders?