Managing Difficult People

So I originally purchased this as a goof, for use as a look what the boss has on his desk kind of gag. What I didn’t expect is how useful I found the book, and not in the way you might expect. I started thumbing through it one day and noticed that it groups people into defined archetypes. This by itself is not unique, but how it goes into detail on identifying the types and tips to harness the good and temper the bad of each type is pretty useful. What’s nice is that it is a relatively short book and is organized as more of a handbook than a novel. Unexpectedly I found I was not using it to categorize my employees, I was using it to identify myself.

Self-awareness is a top 3 trait for any successful person to have, and something that is easy in theory but very hard to master. I would even argue that, what people perceive as true is more important than what is actually true. We can’t control how we are perceived by others, however; we are in complete control of what we choose to display for others to perceive. If you gripe or complain about every decision or project, without presenting any alternatives, you will quickly be perceived as “The Complainer or Whiner“. If you come in everyday and bust your tail and do your best to balance everything on your plate, people will notice that too. It is all about balance, you can’t say yes or no to everything, you can’t continually try and prove you’re the smartest person in the room or be perceived as a push-over.

Self-awareness is an easy skill to practice, any meeting you are in, or even conversations with your spouse can be opportunities to practice. Step one is to listen to yourself, really notice the words you choose, and timing of when you say them. As you speak, or are preparing yourself to speak, take a note of it either physically or mentally. Step two is to review this list and highlight your patterns.

  • Am I the first to shoot down an idea?
  • Am I constantly interrupting others?
  • Do I say nothing, then complain to someone afterwards?
  • Am I over committing?
  • Am I making up an answer instead of saying “I don’t know”?

If you do this for your next 10-15 meetings it will become pretty evident how you are communicating vs. what you are saying.

Communication has the largest impact on how we are perceived. This includes written and spoken communications. During written communication being self-aware is even more important. You don’t have the luxury of tone or body language to help soften or emphasize the points you are trying to convey.

The last step is change, once you have some self-awareness you can start to alter your patterns.

  • Let others speak to conclusion, before interjection.
  • Bring up concerns during the meeting at hand, as respectfully as possible.
  • Respond with alternatives rather than just a no.
  • Practice listening to understand vs. listening to respond.
  • Say “I don’t know, but will get you the answer after this meeting”.

As with most things on the people side of business, this whole process will be in constant revision and re-execution. You will never master dealing with people and that is OK, you just can’t stop trying to be better.