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10 tips for managing difficult people

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1 "People do not come to work to do a bad job or to be difficult," Matt Brown, a director of YSC, a business psychology consultancy, said. "You need to get to the bottom of what's causing the difficulties. That means finding out what drives and motivates that person and why they might not be feeling great at the moment."

Marielena Sabatier, the chief executive of Inspiring Potential, a coaching and training company, said: "Time and again I see people blaming the other person and not taking responsibility for the situation. But is that person being difficult in response to your behaviour?"

Change your mind

2 If you go into a conversation thinking that someone is difficult, you will find yourself on the defensive, which is likely to ratchet up the tension between you in a particularly unhelpful manner. "Reframe your thinking," Miss Sabatier said. "Maybe they are not difficult; maybe they are just different from you."

Change your actions

3 "When faced with a difficult colleague, we have a better chance of getting them to understand us by focusing on what they need from us," Gareth English, a senior consultant at OPP, a business psychology consultancy, said. "It can be tempting to think: 'Why should I change when they are the problem?' But the truth is that they're your problem and if you want it fixed, the most effective way is to take responsibility for the change yourself ... Often, the answer is to change something about yourself first."

Face up fast

4 Don't let one bad meeting turn into an ongoing difficulty. The longer you ignore a problem, the more entrenched it will get. Often a simple conversation can sort things out immediately. "Encourage people to be honest," Mr Brown said. "Some people don't want to face up to conflict - they will pretend it's not there or will manage around it - but there is no substitute for being transparent and talking in an adult way." Don't ignore a difficult relationship because it's with your boss, either. "If you are struggling with someone who is managing you, you really need to get to the bottom of it," Mr Brown said. At the same time, you need to be respectful of their position and that sometimes they will need things from you that you just have to do."

Communicate their way

5 Most people respond to a difficult situation by using their usual communication technique, only more so. "Far better to identify how your style ... differs from theirs and adapt your own accordingly," Mr English said.
Martin Wing, the managing partner, Europe, at Kepner-Tregoe, a consultancy, agreed. "Speak to their PA or a colleague to find out how they prefer to receive information, whether as data, words or images."

Prepare for the worst

6 Telling difficult people bad news will never be pleasant, but negative side-effects can be mitigated with a direct approach. "You need to remove emotion and stay focused on the main points," Mr Wing said. "Identify how the can be turned around to create the next opportunity."

Don't reward bad behaviour

7 For example, stop solving other people's problems or they will just keep coming back to you. And don't get drawn into arguments with attention-seekers; even if you win the fight, you've lost the battle.

Be clear and consistent

8 If it is the difficult person's behaviour that's at fault, tell them what needs to change and by when, David Williams, chief executive of Impact International, a leadership development company, said. If the person continues to demonstrate the bad behaviour, tell them straight away - don't ignore it until the next formal meeting.

Focus on goals not methods

9 Difficulties can arise when a conversation starts to be about how to do something, not what has to be done. When this happens, the actual point gets lost under a war for control, Miss Sabatier said. "You need a clear idea of what you want to achieve. Focus on the purpose of the conversation, not on getting your own way."

Some things can't be fixed

10 " they are behaving in a difficult way because they are not a good fit with the organisation," Mr Williams said. "It could be worth putting them on a different type of contract, for example an associate contract, or letting them go entirely." In other situations, for example when dealing with a bully, disciplinary action may be appropriate.

Carly Chynoweth

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