Dealing with Difficult People

  1. Decide in advance:
    * What is the purpose of the encounter;
    * What are the key results you want to achieve;
    * Whether you need to change your behavior to get the most out of the encounter.
    Someone been rude to you? Try this: I'm not sure quite what you meant by that remark. Can you explain it to me please?" It usually means they will tone down. As they clam down, don't forget the "please."
  2. If someone is abrupt, get straight to the point, avoid flannel and go to the heart of the matter. 'I know you are very busy, so I'll come straight to the point. What do you think about this next phase of the development?'
    If someone is an egomaniac, tell them how good they are. 'Jane, I know you are the neighborhood expert on this, so I've put the detail together and made a couple of recommendations. But can I leave it to you to come up with some alternative directions, if you think they might be better?'
  3. You may even have said to your boss. 'Look, I know we are all under a lot of pressure in this job and I can understand that means sometimes everyday niceties have to go by the board. However, I really don't think it is reasonable of you to expect me to put up with your behavior and [describe a particular issue or incident so there is no ambiguity about what you are saying]. We are going to have to find a better basis of working together."
    'How we got into this situation is less important to us right now than seeing our way through it. Let's decide where we go from here.'
  4. Competition Crazy

    You must have been in a meeting and heard 'I don't know what all the fuss is about. Our department did a project like that in half the time.'
    'Yes, I know, and well done. But can we get back to this issue and talk about how we are going to deal with it.' These few words - repeat them in identical form if you have to - will refocus the meeting, signal that everyone has moved on, and if the competition-crazy person come back to their claim they will look very childish.
  5. When you do decide to sort out the problem, try to do it without destroying the motivation of your victim. 'I know you are used to doing it your way, but the company has good reasons for wanting you to do it another way. Let me take you through what they are.'
    At the end of the encounter, add this bit: 'We are really keen to learn from the experience of the people actually doing the job. If you can come up with a better way, let me know and we'll see how it fits into the whole picture and try to implement it. We like good ideas.'
  6. "What you think about me personally is up to you. However, we're not here for fun. There is a business to run and I do the best I can to run it. If you have a legitimate criticism of me, come and talk to me privately and directly. My door is open to you. Otherwise, keep your offensive remarks to yourself."
    The egomaniac colleague

    The solution is to listen to them boast and puff themselves up and then stick to the facts. Don't prick their bubble, just le them down slowly. Sticking to the facts and figures will do that for you. "Well done. Just how many/how much did you actually do to achieve whatever …?" 
  7. How do you deal with the screamer, the abuser, the table-thumper? Stay calm, unemotional and objective.

    'I know you are concerned about this, and of course it needs to be sorted out, but shouting at me/abusing me is not going to solve the problem. It is very unsettling and upsetting and won't make me work any better.'
    Very straight to the point. What next? The boss will need a way to climb down, so expect a follow-up tirade of less intensity and of the self-justification type: "Just as long as you understand the importance of all this …"

    Answer, 'I do, so let's concentrate on the issues. What is the first step?'
  8. When the fireworks start, obey the four golden rules:
    * Don't accuse - it adds fuel to the fire.
    * Don't say things like 'Calm down' - it'll exacerbate things.
    * Don't join in - you'll prolong it.
    * Don't stay in the firing line - it's not safe.

    When the dust settles, don't get into recriminations. Move on: 'I know this is important. Let's sort it out together because together we're more likely to succeed.'
    Try to get the arch-critic on board. 'Damon, I know you'll have some strong opinions on this so before I go public, I want to have your views." Approaching it this way gives you two chances. First you'll know what the arguments will be and you can prepare. Second, you might just end up with an ally.
  9. Perfectionists can be a pain

    'How you deal with all this detail is a mystery. Still, it's a good job someone around here does. But the truth is, on this project we have a tight turnaround time and a lot of effort going into delivery. This time I'm not too worried about the details, we just need to push it along.'
    The 2nd golden rule: doing deals calls for records, minutes, and agreements. They don't have to be formal:

    The purpose of this memo is to record my understanding what was agreed at the meeting on 2/3/16. John agreed to do this. I agreed to do that, and the whole thing will be delivered by ...
  10. If you are a positive-minded soul, you will probably try to shut out the fault-finders of this world. Try another way: 'Karl, I really appreciate what you've said about this work. I've taken on aboard what you said and I think you've helped me to do a better job' See, now you've got a fan.
    'We need to sort this out. I'm going to leave you for a couple of minutes to collect your thought, then I'll come back and we'll go through it together.'
  11. You know the sort of thing: 'Good sales figures, Brian, but I guess they're not real sales. Most of them were from government procurement anxious to spend their budgets by the end of the financial year?'

    Don't put up with it! Have some sense of self worth. 'Thanks. I worked hard on them. What do you mean by "not real sales"?'
    • Sympathize
    • * 'I'm really sorry to hear what you're telling me.'
    • * 'That sounds awful to me.'
    • * 'That must have been very difficult for you.'
  12. Agree a course of action
    * 'How do you think we should take this forward?'
    * 'How would you like me to handle this from here?'
    * 'How do you see resolving the situation?'
    If you've found someone circulating bad taste emails, try this

    'Fred, I know you think this kind of thing is funny, and to some people perhaps it is. But there are some others who will be offended, and I cannot risk the company, its reputation and the chance of a law suite or tribunal. I'm telling you it has to stop, and if it happens again there will be a formal warning and you risk disciplinary action.'
  13. What should you do if you are bullied - electronically or face to face

    'I know all about emails and comments on Facebook that you have been making about me. I'm sure you intended it as a "bit of fun" but frankly, it's gone too far. I have a record of pretty well everything you have written, posted and said. You either stop it now, or I will take whatever action is open to me to make you stop. That includes escalating it ot management, the HR department, my trade union rep or the police. It stops, right here, right now. Do you understand?'
    Expect 'Don't ask me. No one ever listens to me.' Come back with, 'I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm listening now. What do you think I should know?'
  14. I guess everyone carries their share of the blame. What do we need to do to put it right and make sure it doesn't happen again?
Card Set
Dealing with Difficult People
Roy Lilley