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5 Steps to deal with difficult people

“Logic: The art of thinking and reasoning in strict accordance with the limitations and in-capabilities of human misunderstandings.” Ambrose Bierce

One of the habits that Stephen Covey advocates in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” is “Seek first to understand, then to be understood”. If there is one piece of advice I would give anyone to deal effectively with difficult people, it would be this. It is an extremely simple concept on the surface. When we look deeper and ask ourselves whether we practice it, most of us would have to respond in the negative. We are more often than not, quick to use our frames of reference and perceive the situation solely from our own angles. Before we go about labeling individuals as difficult, it is important to first understand where they are coming from and what the main drivers behind their behaviors are? Only then, can we deal with the situation effectively.

Listed below are five steps to use as a mental checklist when dealing with a difficult person:

1. Understanding Personality Types: Identify the type of person you are dealing with, only then can you determine the best way to work with this person. It is important not to get frustrated during the exploratory  stage of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them in the shortest period of time. To learn more about the different personality types please click here.

2. Understanding the Situation: Before jumping into an argument, take time out to listen to the other person. Understanding their perspective and position on a particular situation is important. Instead of pushing our judgements onto them, we need to give them adequate room to share their point of view with us. We also need to evaluate our attitude towards the type of person and situation. How do we react usually? Are we using any negative frames of reference which make matters worse? Lastly, we need to take into account any external factors which may have triggered the situation. To learn more about understanding the situation correctly please click here.

3. Mental Game Plan: Prior to initiating a conversation, we need to ensure a clear head. Next, develop a couple of critical points to focus on during the course of the discussion, to help reach a mutually agreeable decision. Keep a laser like focus on the type of end result you are looking for. Visualize it before hand if possible, this specific exercise has helped me greatly. To learn more about devising a mental game plan please click here.

4. Language & Tone: When dealing with a difficult person, we need to keep our language and tone in check. What usually happens is, when certain buttons are pushed we tend to go on autopilot, and respond in a manner which may not be optimal. Keeping a strict control on the choice of words, sarcasm and the tone in which to conduct a conversation is critical. To learn more about the proper use of language and tone in a such discussions please click here.

5. Emotional Control: This step is by far the most critical aspect of having an effective discussion with a difficult person. During the course of a heated discussion, our emotional thresholds are often breached. When such an event takes place it has the potential to trigger an adverse reaction. Hence, we need to be aware of our personal thresholds, and develop adequate responses when they are breached. To learn more about how to control one’s emotions please click here.

This mental checklist has helped me deal with difficult people most effectively. In business we will often have to work with challenging individuals. The important thing is to keep one’s focus, practice patience and work towards a mutually beneficial end goal. I would be very interested to hear about your experiences with difficult people and your comments on how you dealt with them. What were specific challenges? How did you overcome them? I look forward to hearing from you.

 

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Emotional Control

“Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion and knowledge.” Plato

I have talked about the importance of emotional control in prior posts in this series. I think it deserves its own section as well because dealing with difficult people is an extremely challenging exercise without control. A lot has been written about the importance of emotional control in life. It is a key component and defines successful people who have an inherent ability or have cultivated one to shrug of nasty comments or asides without taking it personally. Not all of us possess the patience to react with poise and calm in difficult times. It is important to learn through mistakes we make when our threshold levels are tested. 

A couple of important factors to understand in how to effectively control one’s emotions are:

1. Self Awareness: Whenever an event takes place in our life we interpret it cognitively, process it emotionally and take a particular action. Much of the time specific events trigger automatic emotional responses which may be a result of specific past experiences. Self awareness of automatic responses is vital to control our actions to the best of our abilities. This is a first step in taking greater control of our emotions.

2. Emotions & Value Systems: Stephen Covey has suggested in his book “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” that one must analyze our emotions through the lens of our value system, what we believe in, who we are and who we want to be. For example, if we believe in looking at the best in people and we encounter an individual who only looks for flaws, such an encounter may trigger a negative action. We need to constantly remind ourself of our beliefs and tailor our emotional responses accordingly.

3. Identify Thresholds: All of us have personal and emotional  threshold levels. When that threshold hold is reached, we can either stay in the conversation and tune out, leave the conversation and come back later or leave altogether. Depending on the situation and tolerance of threshold level, we can choose one of these three responses. It is important to make this decision in order to act in a manner keeping with our beliefs.

4. Personal Comments: During heated conversations with difficult people, be prepared to take some low blows. This is how the person is attempting to instigate a response to bring you to his/her level. All of us have points, which when pushed, can set us off. We need to learn control even when they are pushed, it is a small price to pay to reach an early agreement. If however the level of personal comments reach an unacceptable threshold level, we then need to take appropriate action.

Controlling emotions and behavior to the best of one’s ability is a responsibility for each and everyone of us. It is much easier to be the person who flares up and goes on a raving rant, than to be the one who has the patience and emotional control to weather such flare ups. My journey as an entrepreneur presents  many such situations often on a daily basis, these require and help me to think through things with an emotionally balanced perception. The moment we let our emotions slip, we make decisions that could potentially be disastrous for future business.

 

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Language and Tone

“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.” Nelson Mandela

One of the most important factors to keep in check during any verbal interaction is, language and tone of voice. This becomes all the more important when dealing with a difficult person, who may not be controlling his/her language and tone. Undoubtedly, this is a very difficult situation, and tests a person’s patience and emotional threshold. However, one must remember, that if we fight fire with fire in such a situation it only goes from bad to worse. We need to remain committed to our mental game plan and make sure that we do not let our emotions get in the way. There will be times when you feel the verbal abuse and tone of voice is reaching unacceptable levels, this is where patience thresholds are severely tested. 

There are a couple of key factors one needs to pay attention to regarding language & tone:

1. Word Selection: During a conversation it is important to keep a strict check on the type of words used to get our point across. Words such as “never”, “always”, “fault”, “accusation” , and any sort of verbal abuse must be avoided at all costs. These words act as instigators and tend to escalate the situation rather than resolve it. Remain specific, and keep sentences as short as possible.

2. Sarcasm: As we all know, the last thing you need to be doing in the course of such a conversation or situation is to bring sarcasm into it. This conveys we have little or no respect for the other person’s point of view and our facetious remarks may intensify the situation. 

3. Tone: Choosing a derogatory manner of speaking will obviously have nasty repercussions in difficult situations. However, we tend to switch to this manner of speaking subconsciously when we feel we are superior to the other person. By taking such a stance we will not make any progress. Even if one is the boss, such a style will not only have a negative effect on this particular person but other staff members may begin to feel uncomfortable as well. It is important to approach such situations with kindness, this has an uncanny ability to diffuse tense situations.

In conclusion, the importance of remaining in control of ones language and tone, cannot be stressed enough. If not kept in check this tends to go on autopilot and has the potential to make things a lot worse. There will be times when it seems almost unbearable to deal with such situations while keeping ones cool. It is at times like these that our character is tested based on how we react under pressure. 

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Mental game plan

“To wear your heart on your sleeve isn’t a very good plan; you should wear it inside, where it functions best.” Margaret Thatcher

 Assessing personality types of difficult people, coupled with understanding the situation at hand, is essential to formulate a plan to deal with the situation in the most effective manner. Such planning helps steer conversation in a mutually agreeable direction. Without a plan and set goals in mind, we often get distracted during the course of conversations, emotions tend to complicate things further. It is therefore essential to make a habit to be mentally prepared for such occasions when we have the opportunity. If however we are confronted with a difficult person or situation by surprise, establishing key points and goals during the initial phase of the conversation is vital.

Some tips I find useful when preparing a mental game plan are:

1. Emotional Balance: First and foremost it is essential to understand the need to keep emotions in check. Without this, it is difficult to stick to any plan we develop, our emotions will get the better of us and we will in all probability do or say things we may regret. 

2. Key Points: It is beneficial to establish a couple of points to reiterate during the course of the conversation. These should be limited to around 3-4 points, and should help drive home our point of view. These points need to take into account the other person’s perspective as well. This will enable and help us reach a consensus faster.

3. End Result: Before the conversation has even started, we need to visualize how we want it to end. Establish critical decisions or factors that need to be decided upon. Visualization has helped me achieve many goals I have set out to reach. It is a very powerful exercise and should be incorporated into many aspects of our daily lives.

Charting out a game plan places us many steps ahead of the other person during negotiations and discussion processes. It helps us remain focused on primary objectives, and charts a way to help us reach our goals. 

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Understanding the situation

“The past went that-a-way. When faced with a totally new situation, we tend always to attach ourselves to the objects, to flavor of the most recent past. We look at the present through a rear view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” Marshall McLuhan

Once we have an idea of the specific personality types we are dealing with, the next step involves looking into a particular situation or event which may trigger a negative reaction. Analyzing such situations is vital to understand where the other person is coming from, and more importantly what our stance is on the given situation. A holistic picture needs to be understood to deal with the person and situation in the most effective manner. When dealing with a difficult person, who deliberately attempts to make a given situation harder, is a tricky situation. My primary nature of work is in the HR field and I am told of such situations on a regular basis. It seems there is always one person in an office or team who gets under the skin of other colleagues consistently.

The response to this from affected colleagues is also fairly consistent. They constantly run down the person for a lack of work ethic, commitment or even manners. The mistake with this view is that we look at the scenario from an isolated perspective. Little or no attention is given to what actually triggers the other person to act in this particular manner. Often we are the ones who are viewed as difficult individuals from the other person’s perspective. Not taking into account that our personal biases or value systems may be very different from those of others we make critical errors. 

Here are a couple of pointers to help you in correctly understanding the situation at hand:

1. Personal Perspective: One of the most important factors when dealing with difficult people and situations is to first understand our own attitude towards the person or situation. Does one always take a particular stance when dealing with a particular type of person? Is this triggered by one’s own personal biases or past experiences? If there is a consistent and apparent pattern with our behavior it may in fact be making it difficult for other people to work with us, this above all, needs to be corrected first.

2. Others Perspective: Next we need to assess why another person is acting difficult. What were the factors that triggered their altered behavior? Going back to the ‘The Apprentice’ example with Omarosa and Piers, one can clearly see that Piers has a biased stance towards Omarosa because she was not a celebrity. As project manager he linked performance solely to the amount of money that every team member could raise for the task. Since this was undoubtedly Omarosa’s weak spot, she felt she was being exploited, and this caused her to become very challenging to manage. In all situations we need to establish where the other person is coming from, to understand them better.

3. External Factors: We have to be vigilant about external factors that trigger particular situations or attitudes from an individual. This comes back to the point where we need to be able to look at the larger picture and understand the cause of such behavior. Many a time it could be a new boss or major changes in the company. Either way, in order to deal effectively with a given situation these considerations need to be taken into account to do so in the most effective manner possible.

Often individuals tend to let the heat the of the moment get the better of them and say things which they would not have if they had a better understanding of the situation. This habit is not an effective way to deal with difficult individuals and situations, a change needs to be applied to be able to address given situations and people with better understanding. Special care needs to be taken when dealing with difficult people, spending time on analyzing situation better helps keep a better emotional control.

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Understanding Personality Types

“Only those who respect the personality of others can be of real use to them.” Albert Schweitzer

All of us have come in contact with varying types of difficult people. Sometimes we may have known the person for a fair period of time and at others it could be the newest colleague on your team. Either way, to deal effectively with difficult people we need to understand their personality type. This enables us to choose the optimal way to deal with them in the most effective manner. The tricky part comes when we have to deal with a difficult, unknown individual. I do personal counseling and have come across my share of such individuals. One of the most effective ways of drawing some conclusions fairly early in the conversation is asking open ended questions.

For example, I was giving a candidate feedback on a personality assessment he had taken. From the word go this person was totally against such forms of tests in the workplace. When he came in for the feedback session it was a textbook example of one who was not going to cooperate. His arms were crossed, refused to make eye contact and would answer open ended questions with answers such as “I don’t know”, “this is a useless exercise” etc. To turn this situation effectively, turn the answers such as “why do you think this is a useless exercise?” into questions, and get the other person to open up a little more. There were a lot of discrepancies in this particular candidates personality report, hence it could not be used in this session. However, after a 2 hour session we made progress, after I understood the reason he felt this way about testing.

In the book “Dealing with difficult people” by Rick Brinkman & Rick Kirschner they have identified 10 different behavior patterns of people under pressure:

The Steamroller (or Tank): Aggressive and angry. Victims can feel paralyzed, as though they’ve been flattened.

The Sniper: The Sniper’s forte is sarcasm, rude remarks, and eye rolls. Victims look and feel foolish.

The Know-It-All: Wielding great authority and knowledge, Know-it-all do have lots to offer, are generally competent, and cannot stand to be contradicted or corrected. But they will go out of their way to correct you.

The Grenade: Grenades tend to explode into uncontrolled ranting that has little, if anything, to do with what has actually happened.

The Think They Know It All: A cocksure attitude often fools people into believing their phony “facts.”

The Yes Person: Someone who wants to please others so much that he never says no.

The Maybe Person: Procrastinating, hoping to steer clear of choices that will hurt feelings, he avoids decisions, causing plenty of frustration along the way.

The Blank Wall (or Nothing Person): This person offers only a blank stare, no verbal or nonverbal signals.

The No Person: He spreads gloom, doom, and despair whenever any new ideas arise, or even when old ones are recycled. The No Person saps energy from a group in an amazingly short time.

The Whiner: Whiners feel helpless most of the time and become overwhelmed by the unfairness of it all. They want things to be perfect, but nothing seems to go right. Whiners want to share their misery.

Identify the type of person you are dealing with, after that you can determine the best way to work together with this person. The most important thing is not to get frustrated during the exploratory finding of the personality type. This is not the easiest of processes, but keeping your cool and emotional quotient under control will help you reach the most effective way of dealing with them at the earliest.

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5 Steps to Assess a Business

“Strategy is not just a plan, not just an idea; it is a way of life for a company. Strategy doesn’t just position a firm in its external landscape; it defines what a firm will be.” Cynthia A. Montgomery

As a business owner one needs to continually assess one’s own company as well as those of the competition. It is essential to have the ability to look at the larger picture and see what is working, and what is not. If you are younger start-up company looking to raise money, or attract potential team members, you need to have well thought out answers to key questions which will be asked. Listed below are five key questions which I believe every business owner must be able to answer.

1. Why does your organization exist?: To answer this question, one needs to have clear understanding of the problem the organization is wanting to solve and how it plans to do that. The answer needs an opening sentence which has the ability to get the other person interested instantly, and wanting to know more about the business. To read more about answering this question please click here.

2. What is your competitive edge?: This question requires you to identify three main components, customer needs, competitor capabilities and your own organizational capabilities. This will help to clearly identify the space your organization is going to be operating in, and your customer value proposition. To read more about the answering this question please click here.

3. What is your business model?: In essence this question is asking how your business makes money. The answer to this question requires you to clearly pin point your target market, financial estimates, scalability and originality. All assumptions and forecasts used in the answer must be based on extensive research. Investors see far too many hockey stick projections, without substantial evidence of how and why demand will pick up to reach those estimates. To read more about answering this question please click here.

4. How do you acquire customers?: The answer to this question is all about your marketing strategy.  Clearly outline metrics used to measure performance, market positioning and price point strategies. These objectives and strategies need to be translated into executable tactics through your promotional campaigns. Avoid using generic answers when answering this question and focus on key metrics you  want to achieve, and how. To read more about answering this question please click here.

5. Who is on your team?: This question requires you to tell the assessor the business plans for execution. The answer to this question is I believe, by far the most important aspect of assessing a business. One needs to mention the teams past experience, achievements, leadership examples and responsibilities. Highlight strengths and how they will be used to help reach your target goals. To read more about answering this question please click here.

One needs to have the answers to these questions, always prepared. They require much initial hard work and research,  the benefits however, far outweigh the time spent on them. One needs to remember to be clear, concise and confident when answering these question. It is all about passion for the business and the industry one operates in. This passion must be conveyed when talking about one’s organization. In the end if the story makes sense, numbers are fairly correct and you have managed to assemble a talented team, success is closer than you think.

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Who is on your team?

“The way a team plays as a whole determines its success. You may have the greatest bunch of individual stars in the world, but if they don’t play together, the club won’t be worth a dime.” Babe Ruth

The success of any startup depends on the quality of the team executing the plans. It comes down to having a team who complements each others strengths and weaknesses, has the ability to work cohesively together and most importantly, has the same core beliefs and values. To communicate this to a potential investor or assessor of the business, requires a deep understanding of oneself and one’s team mates. A clear segmentation of the roles each person will be playing and why that particular person has been chosen for that role is essential.

The answer to this question should include reference to the following:

1. Experience: The first things which needs to be established is the team’s past experience and achievements. This will assist an understanding of where they are coming from and whether they have the required understanding of the market and skill set they will be responsible for. Wherever possible, support your answer with specific details including return on investments (ROI), market share growth, sales figure or any industry rewards and recognition achieved. Past tangible results need to be highlighted.

2. Leadership: This point needs to be stressed to showcase  possession of the necessary skills to lead and motivate a team. Highlight experience, responsibility and motivational skills from the past. Forward looking investors need to know whether an individual has the ability to motivate a team during hard times, and push them further when things are going well.

3. Roles & Responsibilities: From the very beginning there should be clear allocation of responsibilities. Even though at the beginning everyone has to wear multiple hats, it is important that they are responsible for the part of the business where their strongest skill set is used.

The points mentioned above highlight some key areas to develop answers around. Ultimately, investors invest in teams, not business ideas. Use this opportunity to promote your team as much as possible. Be clear, concise and focus on results and tangible evidence of the team’s great ability to work well together.

Related Articles:

Steps to create a winning team

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How do you acquire customers?

“Good business leaders create a vision, articulate the vision, passionately own the vision, and relentlessly drive it to completion.” Jack Welch

The reason I ask this question is to understand how the business plans to market itself to its target segment. As mentioned earlier in my blog posts, very often start-up companies fail to sufficiently develop a well thought out, go-to-market strategy. Relying solely on a website, brochures and short run publicity tactics is not advisable. The assessor needs to understand explicitly what the marketing objectives are and what strategies they will use to reach those targets. To correctly answer this question, develop a marketing plan for the business which will help create a concise answer summarizing your goals.

The following information needs to be included in your answer.

1. Metrics: The answer to this question must be supported by  key metrics which will benchmark marketing strategies. Potential investors are looking for specific details such as market share figures, customer acquisition costs, customer lifetime value, customers required to break-even, and quarterly targets. These metrics must be established early in the answer to give it greater credibility.

2. Positioning: Next, establish positioning and the reason why that particular stance was chosen. Being specific about your target segment and clear on positioning is essential for any marketing plan to work effectively. Choosing a generic target segment like SME’s may appear appealing, however, most do not have the resources to tackle such a large target segment on their own.

3. Price Points: It is always good to know the rationale why a particular price point was used in the strategy. Setting correct price points requires a lot of data collection in the form of surveys, feedback and industry reports to establish credible and  optimal price points. Setting it above or below industry norms must be done with adequate reasons and supported by marketing tactics.

4. Promotional Tactics: After clearly establishing your objectives, positioning, and price points, it is essential to explain how they will be achieved. This relies on the promotional activities a business uses to reach its target segment.  Consistency in promotional tactics is a critical component to establish .

The ultimate objective when answering this question, is to come across as someone with deep knowledge about the industry they operate in, and a clear picture of how they are going to carve out a niche for themselves. The points listed above should serve as guiding points to help you formulate an answer which will help establish this.

Related Articles:

How to write a marketing plan

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What is your business model?

“Great companies first build a culture of discipline…and create a business model that fits squarely in the intersection of three circles: what they can be best in the world at, a deep understanding of their economic engine, and the core values they hold with deep passion.” Jim Collins

In essence what this question is asking is, how does your business make money? To answer this question you must explain comprehensively how the different functions of your business fit together to make a profit. A good business model must satisfy two very simple core criterions, it must be based on it’s target market demand and must make financial sense. As simple as these two criterions may seem, many businesses, specifically in the “internet” era fail to pay attention to them.

One example is that of Webvan. They wanted to take grocery shopping, online. Great idea, huge demand from customers, however, it failed the financial test. The numbers did not add up and after spending hundreds of millions of dollars, the company was forced to close down. Another example of where the story did not make sense, is a company called Flooz. It wanted to convert real money to virtual currency to be used for spending online. After $35m, they found out that customers did not really feel comfortable with the idea.

The litmus test to put to business models, must cover:

1. Does it meet customer needs?: Is there a large enough target market segment willing to buy or use the product/service that the business is wanting to sell? It is essential that business models make sense and that there is a large potential target market.

2. Do the numbers add up?: Firstly, are the forecasts and projection based on solid foundations? Many a time when assessing businesses, I come across assumptions that seem to have been pulled out of a hat and  projections that are quite unrealistic. Secondly, have they taken the costs of doing business into account realistically? In the end, if the numbers do not add up and the business does not have a good plan, the chances of success and making money are very slim.

3. Is the business model scalable?: Investors and potential partners are always more interested in a business which has the ability to scale. Look into the future to see how the business model can be expanded and what it will cost the organization. If IPO and becoming an attractive takeover target is your goal, the business model has got to be scalable.

4. Can the business model be easily replicated?: Almost all models can be replicated. However, how much does it cost, and how long before your competition catches up? Look at DELL, it developed a business model which was very difficult for its competition to replicate because of its existing distribution channel agreements. Hence, even though the model could be replicated, they chose not too because they could not match it.

Listed above are a few things to keep in mind when developing an answer to the above question. It is important to clearly communicate how the business will make money, what assumptions the forecasts are based on, and whether it has the ability to scale. Investors are looking for something unique yet simple. It is challenging to find this balance, however if you do, success is right around the corner.

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