Keep in mind that the above are only some examples; there are certainly other traits that people display that can lead others to consider them difficult individuals. For example, have you ever encountered an arrogant or defensive person? Maybe they know it all and do not appreciate you asking questions or making suggestions. What about someone who does not keep commitments, or someone who spends a lot of time talking but does not make much sense or contribute anything meaningful? Or, what about a moody person, or what about the cunning person whose motives you find yourself always questioning? We think by now you probably have the idea and maybe even a few specific people in mind. Also, we realize that some people may exhibit multiple traits . . . some might even call this multiple personalities . . . but we’re not going to take this article that deep (sorry no heavy psychoanalysis here).
Approaches for dealing with difficult people
People can be our most valuable resources, but dealing with difficult people can certainly be challenging and time-consuming. As a manager, it is your responsibility to lead the business in success, and this means handling the tough and not-so-fun situations. Often people do not react to difficult people in the most useful or effective manner. We all find it easier sometimes to ignore or avoid the person and the behavior than to deal with it. However, refusing to deal with it does nothing to discourage the same continued behavior in the future, gain respect for you, or improve the business to get the results you desire. Much of dealing with difficult people can be summed up in one word — communicate. And, how you handle a situation and communicate with a difficult person may depend on whether they are your employee, co-worker, boss, etc. We provide a number of strategies that can be used with different types of difficult people in various situations.
Think and communicate
As a manager in the grain and feed industry, one method for impacting employee behavior is to address it during employee reviews and evaluations. Discussing positive and negative employee attributes during an evaluation can be an effective method for bringing about change. It can alert employees to negative behaviors that they may or may not be aware of, and it allows you to get these on record as having been discussed. As part of the communication with employees, it is especially important to document these review conversations and discussions. One method for doing this is to write a letter or report that you sign and also have the employee sign. This provides sufficient documentation that can be referred to later; it is very important to have documentation that you have gone on record about negative behavior and the employee has been notified. If the negative behavior continues, the documented record will serve as an aid should you decided to terminate the employee.
Since reviews only take place periodically, it will sometimes be necessary to address some difficult situations as they occur. If the difficulty with an individual relates to talking of some type, you need to find a way to reduce the talking, change or eliminate it. There is always the very direct route of just telling them they are talking, gossiping, or complaining too much, or that subject matter might be inappropriate, and the talking makes it difficult for you and/or others to work.
However, a little bit of tact can accomplish the same result and possibly avoid alienating or insulting the employee. This can be done by interjecting into the conversation, asking a question about the status of a work-related issue or project, or assigning a new task to be done now. If you do this repeatedly in these situations, the person or people should get the clue. If, instead, you are dealing with a silent person, do not ask them yes or no questions; this forces them to provide a different answer. You may have to push them a bit. Continue asking questions to get them to talk.
As a manager, you may encounter co-workers who are Snipers. You may sometimes decide it is in the best interest to just ignore the Sniper’s comments and hostility. This can be an appropriate response if the possibility of an escalated situation would be a more negative outcome. This may be especially true if the hostility is delivered via e-mail. Writing a rapid response e-mail and sending it may be something you severely regret later. Waiting to respond or not responding at all may be better choices. At other times you may want to call the Sniper out and put them on the spot. Ask them a question about their comment. They may not be expecting you to respond at all. Questioning them whether in person or via e-mail about it can cause them to think about doing it in the future and will likely reduce this kind of behavior.