leadership incorporated blog

April 22, 2012

How You Make The Difficult People You Work With More Difficult

Who ruins your day? The VP who has to be right no matter what? The client who doesn’t listen? The direct report who undermines your authority? The CEO who has to belittle someone in every conversation? Your colleague who, after you’ve come to an agreement, does exactly the opposite? The weenie who takes credit for your work? The softie who can’t make a decision?

OK. The person you’re dealing with really is a grade A jerk. Difficult. Unjustifiable. Wrong, wrong, wrong. And you’re right. So what?  What does being right get you? You still have to deal with it. And you still have to deal with the consequences of your interactions.

Let me offer you what may be an uncomfortable take on this, which just may change your life:

There is no such thing as a difficult person.

Difficult people are just human beings (no matter how much they may be disguising that) behaving in ways that they believe work for them.

The perception that they are difficult belongs to you. You are part of a system with them. And just as their behavior contributes to the difficulty, so does yours.

The good news: you can change any system by changing any part of that system. You may not be able to change the other person. But you can change yourself. And when you change, the system changes and then that person has no choice but to change.

It all begins with doing something different from the way you’ve been doing it. Here’s a quick roadmap:

  1. Depersonalize the situation. It may help to assign different names to the players and pretend that you are an objective observer.
  2. Identify the problem behaviors and the problem responses. Chances are good that you have a go-to response.
  3. Identify the costs of the difficulty. Look at the big picture as well as the more immediate one. Who else is impacted by this interaction?
  4. Identify your desired outcome. What would work better than what’s happening now?
  5. Put your butt in their seat. Develop an appreciation for why they’re making the choices they are making—and an understanding of what they want to achieve.
  6. Model the behavior you want to see. If you want them to listen, you listen first. If you want them to do it your way, try theirs.
  7. Strategize. What other ways might you respond to their behavior? Consider some of the following options: Get more direct or give more direction.  Become more connected. Look at ways you might offer support. Provide information. Use humor. Push back. Don’t push back. Agree. Disagree. Try it their way. Offer other options. Ask a good question.
  8. Try it out. Put a different strategy into practice and observe the results. Expect the discomfort that comes along with changing a habit and remind yourself that your desired outcome is worth it.
  9. Learn. Fine tune. Try again. 

Don’t give up. You’ll just go back to the way things were. Instead, keep moving forward. Keep being willing to adjust your own behavior and see what happens.

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