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Monica Wofford, CSP, teaches leaders to understand and improve their own leadership in using practice, skills, and desire as their three areas of focus. The truth? Leaders are often part of the difficulty when they fail to effectively deal with difficult people. If you take a look at the offerings of most public seminar companies or corporate training firms, it’s a near guarantee that Dealing with Difficult People will be listed in their catalog because leaders often outsource this solution when they don’t know how to resolve the problem internally. Now there’s nothing wrong with sending someone to a class to bolster their skills, but don’t send them because you’d rather ignore the problem. No one wants to deal with difficult people and few know how, so one of two things happens in these classes:

–         All the people who are seen as difficult are sent as if to be magically fixed after a one day class

–          All those frustrated with the difficult ones go to the class to vent their feelings with colleagues who feel their pain

Well, what I should say is that was at least MY experience when I taught two different versions of this class across the US for a few years. We either talk about others who are difficult or we make the effort to fix those who are difficult so we don’t have to deal with them at all. Unfortunately, neither are the real deal…or key…to dealing with them once and for all.

In the Harvard Business Review blog, Tony Schwarz says the Secret to Dealing with Difficult People is YOU, or should I say US. He then goes on to explain how we contribute to the image others have of us and we create the perception we have of others, both of which might be slanted toward difficulty. It’s a good read and I couldn’t agree more, but then again, we all intellectually know that we play a part in the difficult behaviors of others. It’s really not all them, it’s both parties. And of course, that means that we’re likely part of the problem we keep complaining about and trying to deal with. Hmm… well that’s a bummer.

So what IS the deal? What DO we do as leaders to keep from fueling their difficult “fire” or making it worse? What DO we do when faced with someone else’s behavior that seems difficult? Here are a few suggestions:

–          Lead the effort to work WITH that person versus contributing to or being a conduit for any gossip you might hear

–          Be diligent in your leadership responsibilities of addressing problems directly and quickly so that a simply poor performer or person who’s had one bad day, doesn’t turn into a much bigger problem that becomes difficult for many.

–          Help those you lead understand that we are all different and that when two different folks have one task to complete and one goal, their methods may clash. That can lead to creativity or conflict. What expectations do you set as the leader for the outcome?

One difficult person can certainly strain the entire dynamics of the team. Make sure that you’re not that difficult person and that you’re not adding to the impact of someone who might be difficult by leading them less than effectively. And maybe consider this…if a person acts difficult, but no one is around to label it, talk about or judge the behavior, are they still difficult? It always takes two to deal with difficulty.

Want More?

It’s one thing to know how to lead well and to manage yourself. It’s quite another to train all those you lead to do it for their teams. If you are struggling with conflict, team formation, and productivity in your office, there is a one day conference coming up in April that might be of interest to you or your team. It’s called How DO We Deal with Difficult People and will reveal many tips, skills, and insights that will change those who participate and how they interact with others. Read more…

Have a great Monday and of course, stay contagious!


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