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Difficult or not?


Business Spotlight - epaper ⋅ Ausgabe 9/2021 vom 25.08.2021

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Artikelbild für den Artikel "Difficult or not?" aus der Ausgabe 9/2021 von Business Spotlight. Dieses epaper sofort kaufen oder online lesen mit der Zeitschriften-Flatrate United Kiosk NEWS.

Bildquelle: Business Spotlight, Ausgabe 9/2021

Prickly problem: who do you find difficult and why?

ADVANCED AUDIO PLUS

It’s important to say at the start that one of the most difficult things about talking about difficult people is the word “difficult” itself. The risk is that any discussion quickly degenerates into negative and unfair labelling of those we find problematic for our own selfish reasons. Cognitive bias has the great benefit of making us look good and others problematic. So, we need to avoid that trap.

This is not to say that there are no difficult people at work. But we need to include details in any description and add sophistication to our analysis. After all, other people are pretty much like us. Most view their actions as positively motivated and see themselves as committed to achieving results. We therefore need to understand the drivers below the surface, which manifest in behaviours that we find challenging.

If we can engage with these drivers constructively, we ...

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... have a chance of tackling the problems that we experience. For leaders, not dealing with difficult people is not an option. Allowing toxic behaviours to persist will not only diminish your team’s performance but also significantly damage your credibility and effectiveness as a leader.

Dimensions of “difficult”

People can present us with difficulties across different dimensions. Here, we will look at four aspects of difficult behaviour:

Communication. One of the most obvious aspects of difficult behaviour is linked to communication. For example, we meet people who talk for too long, who dominate discussions, argue too much, lack clarity or are simply too direct for us. Others are problematic because they talk too little. Their silence seems to communicate a lack of commitment to the collaborative cause.

Ask yourself: Which communication style(s) do I find difficult and why?

Performance. Another dimension is that of performance and, in particular, underperformance. We all know people who promise but don’t deliver, or they deliver but without the required care and quality. Paradoxically, overperformance can also be difficult to handle. Some people set standards that are too high for others to meet. These types generate pressure amongst their colleagues that can easily escalate into friction or conflict.

Ask yourself: Which attitudes to performance do I find difficult and why?

Team dynamics. There is a team-dynamics aspect of difficult, too. Who hasn’t worked with a disruptive team member whose way of working fails to conform to the team’s ethics? Such people can be too individualist, too competitive with their own colleagues, too focused on their own role, and lacking interest in others and providing them with too little support.

Ask yourself: Which team working style(s) do I find difficult and why?

This article will help you to...

• reflect on people you find difficult

• gain insights into the positive drivers of people’s behaviour

• identify strategies to manage the behaviour you find difficult

Personal demands. There are also people who make their own life difficult.

Some set standards that are too high to achieve. They live in a state of anxiety with their own perfectionism, enduring unnecessary levels of stress because of their overcommitment. Burnout lurks around the corner.

Ask yourself: Which types of personal demands do I find difficult and why?

Types of difficult people

In this section, we look at five common types of people who are seen as being difficult. On page 39, you can find useful phrases for dealing with such people:

The talker. Talkers can be defined as those who happily speak for three to five minutes in a conversation without allowing others a turn. Their motivations are likely connected to a passion for the topic, a wish to share, a willingness to be open and the belief that others are happy to listen. If talking time threatens to turn into dominance, you’ll need to learn the art of interruption, negotiation or enforcement of fair play.

The arguer. Arguers are those who love those two magic words, “Yes, but…”, and seem focused on proving themselves right and others wrong. It is a behaviour that quickly causes frustration and disengagement in others. The motivations are likely connected to analytical excellence, a desire to reach the best result, a proactive mindset and a belief that attacking the data does not mean you attack the person. Such people may need to be advised carefully to remain open to other ideas for longer or to come up with constructive alternatives. Also, you may need to give them some quiet feedback to sensitize them to the impact of their communication style.

The underperformer. People underperform for a variety of reasons. Some lack the level of competence required to achieve a high standard. In such cases, support is needed, not criticism. Others lack the commitment to be excellent. Motivational issues may derive from a lack of engagement with their role. Perhaps a change of job is the answer; or finding tasks that fit better with the person’s intrinsic drivers. Lack of engagement can also derive from a missing sense of purpose. Making clear the importance of a task or responsibility can inspire better performance. And don’t forget the value of recognition. Small and frequent comments of appreciation can go a long way.

Why should others listen to you if you don’t listen to them?

The individualist. Some individuals seem hell-bent on accelerating their own career, taking the credit and shining brighter than all their colleagues. Although they may be rewarded with a promotion, individualists can leave a trail of frustration and conflict in their wake. From a leadership point of view, such people — who are typically masters of their tasks but a disaster at the relationship level — present one of the most difficult dilemmas. Many leaders default to accepting such behaviour. The outcome may be good results but at the cost of poor team dynamics. However, it doesn’t have to be this way. Encouraging individualists to engage with relationship issues is essential. Placing experts in roles in which they are no longer experts and thus have to rely on others can be a smart strategy to teach humility and the value of collaboration.

LEARN FROM THE EXPERTS

In Surrounded by Idiots (Vermillion), Thomas Erikson looks at the importance of understanding others better to reduce the number of misunderstandings and conflicts at work. The book is an excellent guide to engaging with the people you find difficult in your professional life.

The complainer. At the core of leadership lies the responsibility to build a culture of accountability, team spirit and cooperation. Individuals who complain about others — criticizing openly, unconstructively (and often falsely) the knowledge, attitudes and behaviours of others — deserve little tolerance. As a leader, you should know that if a person complains about others, sooner or later, they will complain about you. It’s a corrosive and toxic form of behaviour. The causes may be complex, often deriving from low self-esteem, which disguises itself as superiority. This is a personality type that deserves some compassion but is challenging to engage with and handle effectively. Open censure may have to be combined with gentler coaching-type questions in order to unlock an inner frustration. Building trust can help complainers to talk openly about any issues they may have.

Challenging yourself

Finally, we always need to bear in mind the difficulty that we ourselves bring as leaders. Our own beliefs, values and preferences often distort our view of others, masking their talent under a wave of emotions. But it is possible to challenge and puncture the bubble within which we live. Encourage people to share their ideas with you. Give others a clear platform to disagree with you. Create channels of open and honest feedback so you can hear about the areas in which you yourself are being difficult.

Creating a safe space for others to critique you also develops a space for you to ask them for alternative behaviours. It’s logical if you think about it. Why should others listen to you if you don’t listen to them?

AUDIO + PLUS

You can listen to an interview with Bob Dignen on Business Spotlight Audio and try our exercises in Business Spotlight Plus. To order, go to www.aboshop. spotlight-verlag.de

DEALING WITH DIFFICULT TYPES

Here are some useful phrases you can use at work to communicate with the different types of “difficult” people described in the article.

THE TALKER

• Sorry to interrupt but…

• Mike, can we come back to that later?

• Delia, we need to hear from the others.

THE ARGUER

• Let’s not dismiss this too quickly.

• If you disagree with this idea, what would be your proposal?

• Are you aware of the impact that your style has on others?

• Some people feel frustrated when you…

THE UNDERPERFORMER

• How can we/I support you?

• How can we make your role more motivating?

• Your input is really valuable because…

• Many thanks for your help with… That was really great.

THE INDIVIDUALIST

• It is important also to think about relationships within the team.

• How can we/I support you in developing people skills?

• At the next level, your own expertise matters much less than your ability to help others to develop.

THE COMPLAINER

• Jackie, sorry, but it’s not acceptable to talk about colleagues like that.

•I really don’t think that criticism is justified.

• Why do you feel frustrated by… ?

And here are some questions that you can ask others in your organization to get feedback on your own role as a leader.

ASKING OTHERS TO HELP YOU

• What do you think about this?

• Who has an alternative view here?

• What am I missing here?

• How can I do this better?

• In which areas is there room for improvement on my part?