A client asked me to run a training day on Managing Difficult People. I asked if there were specific situations she wanted me to cover – after all, there are many varieties of difficult behaviour – and she asked me to speak to their Office Manager, Sandra, who had requested the training. I rang Sandra and discovered she was at her wit’s end with Jane, the accounts clerk. “I’ve tried everything” she said. “I’ve tried being friendly, I’ve tried keeping a close eye on her work, I’ve tried giving her space. I’ve tried being formal and firm… I’m out of ideas.”
My brief was to design a day that would help Sandra, then the course would be opened to other staff that wanted to come along. On the day, to my surprise, Sandra didn’t turn up, but Jane did. I asked the delegates what they wanted to get out of the day. Jane told me she was at the end of her tether with her line manager. “She’s so inconsistent” she said “Some days she’s friendly, other days she doesn’t speak. Sometimes shes interested in my work, at other times she doesn’t care. I really don’t know how to handle her…”
The moral of the story is, of course, that to some people your behaviour seems difficult, and so does mine. We need to find ways to open up lines of communication so that we each recognise the impact our behaviour has, and how we can persuade others to modify theirs. Sometimes it takes a lot of persistent, consistent effort. At other times, it is like flicking a switch. Take Colin, for example. He was a delegate whose reputation came before him – I knew he was a major league moaner before I met him!
We were talking about the impact of negativity in the workplace when Colin spoke. “Are you telling me I have a choice?” he asked. I took a deep breath and said yes. His Director rang me a few days later to tell me that Colin was a completely different person. He had no idea his complaining dragged his team mates down – and he didn’t want to do that, so he changed. Just like that.
If you would like to explore the possibilities for training your staff in managing difficult people you can see a course outline here to give you an idea, but remember that we always tailor to meet your specific needs. And if you have one challenging person, it’s probably best to arrange some coaching for them to look at their behaviour in a safe environment.