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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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Dealing with difficult individuals

“Eventually we will find (mostly in retrospect, of course) that we can be very grateful to those people who have made life most difficult for us.” Ayya Kheme

All of us have been in situations where we have had to deal with difficult individuals. These are not the easiest of situations to handle, and hence great care must be taken. I was watching the apprentice a couple of days ago, the episode that had the fireworks between Omarosa and Piers. For those who have not watched this episode, Omarosa has an aggressive and combative personality, Piers is an alpha male with a very strong personality too. Unfortunately both of them do not get along well, and Omarosa made it very difficult for Piers when he was project manager on a task. Much can be learnt from this episode regarding how to, and how not to, handle such situations.

Often we have to deal with difficult bosses, team mates, customers and suppliers. This is just part of life and something we cannot escape. I believe avoiding such situations only makes the situation worse and restricts one from operating optimally. We have to tackle the problem head on, and work towards establishing a situation where both individuals can work optimally. This is usually an uncomfortable route to take, I have had my share of them. Looking back at past experiences I have learnt tremendously from such situations. These are situations that help us understand our thresholds, emotional triggers and personality type a lot more when facing them.

Over the next week I will be writing about my experiences in dealing with difficult individuals. The series aims to serve as a guide and help readers through similar situations, by providing tips on how to deal with them. I am also interested in learning from readers about their experiences with difficult people and what strategies they have used to handle such situations. I look forward to comments and feedback.

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5 Steps to Manage Startup Risk

“I think that only daring speculation can lead us further and not accumulation of facts.” Albert Einstein

In the first post of this series, I added a video which stated life = risk. If we shield ourselves from all sorts of risks by staying in our small comfort zone we will not be living life fully. It is our perrogative to find a balance to ensure that we live life to its fullest. The points below relate how to find that balance when starting a business.

1. Market Risk: Our world is in a constant state of flux and with mind boggling technological advancements taking place, we have to be constantly aware of the changes taking place around us. This requires us to monitor our competitors, be in touch with our customers and suppliers, and watch for trends which could potentially make your business extinct. To read more about how to manage market risk please click here.

2. Operational Failure: All companies operate on a set of processes. These processes drive all avenues of business, ranging from Internal operations, business development, sales, marketing and execution to name a few critical functions. When these processes are not optimized or closely scrutinized a business will not be able to scale effectively and reach its target goals. To read more about how you can avoid operational failure please click here.

3. Financial Risk: Without financial controls a business loses its foundation and is on shaky grounds even when the company is making steady profits. Ensuring that you have sound and reliable financial controls in place will allow you to minimize your exposure to financial risks and allow your business to grow more effectively. To read about how you can add financial controls to your startup please click here.

4. The People Risk Factor: You hear it all the time, “Our people are our most important asset”. Its like a mantra that has been wedged into our sub conscious and is constantly repeated from board meetings to your daily staff meetings. However, I am always surprised that though this is such an important asset, very few steps and measures are taken to mitigate the risk associated with this asset. To read more about how you can add effective control measures to mitigate these risks please click here.

5. Lessons in Risk: Having been in this line of work for some time now there have been several risk factors which I have witnessed or experienced first hand. These cover the time you should start, what the risks of starting without a plan are and the kind of risks you have to deal with on a daily basis. To read more about these lessons please click here.

In life and business, if you stop taking calculated risks, or if you let doubt  paralyze you, moving forward becomes close to impossible. It is only when you make mistakes that you learn from them and eventually move forward. Along the way we have to manage the types of risk faced and ensure that we take precautionary measures to avoid risking it all if we do not know where we are headed. Once you know what you want and how you want to get it, take action , because thinking ‘what if’ is just about the worst thing you could do to yourself!

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Personal Experiences With Risk

“Be brave. Take risks. Nothing can substitute experience.” Paulo Coelho

The risks mentioned in prior posts provide a framework on mitigating risk in various divisions of business. Some of the risks and counter measures mentioned in this post are general and some those I have personally encountered during my journey as an entrepreneur. 

1. Start as early as possible: The younger you are , the lower the  risk level when embarking on new startup ventures. This is a point in life when you do not have many personal responsibilities and can hence take on greater leveraged risks, for greater payoffs. There will never be a right time. If you wait around for it, you drastically reduce the level of risk you can take . 

2. Don’t start without a plan: Starting a business is a lot of fun and very exciting, however, if you do not have a solid business plan which has been well researched and developed, get working on that first. I am not a fan of shotgun startup ventures who are clueless about where they want to go and how they plan on getting there. 

3. Learn to trust your gut: There will be times when the plans looks too good to be true on paper, but your gut feeling is to be wary. On the other hand ,there are times when the pieces do not fit into place initially, yet, your gut says this is worth exploring. Learning to trust your gut allows you to hone into your inner guidance system and intuitive capabilities.

4. Don’t forget your core values: We are constantly faced with challenges where compromising on core values could lead to substantial benefits. However, going down that path poses great personal and moral risk . I have personally known someone who went down this path and ended up losing everything that mattered in his life. It was an incident which left a deep impression. Compromising on core values is one of the greatest risks you can take and one where the consequences are long lasting & long term.

Some of the concepts mentioned in this posts have many counter arguments. Such as the first one, which is to start early. Some argue that it is better to get some work experience before venturing out into the startup world. Others believe in just starting a business and hoping to eventually make some money. I would really like to hear what your thoughts about this are. Look forward to hearing from you.

 

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The People Risk Factor

Our mission statement about treating people with respect and dignity is not just words but a creed we live by every day. You can’t expect your employees to exceed the expectations of your customers if you don’t exceed the employees’ expectations of management.” Howard Scultz

You hear it all the time, “Our people are our most important asset”. Its like a mantra that has been wedged into our sub conscious and is constantly repeated from board meetings to your daily staff meetings. However, I am always surprised that though this such an important asset, very few steps and measures are taken to mitigate the risk associated with this asset. As a startup this is one of the most dangerous sort of risk we are exposed to, due primarily to our size. When a critical team member or employee leaves, the entire business can be brought to its knees. Listed below are a couple of risk control measures you can use to protect this asset .

1. Strict selection policies: At early stages, startups are usually 2-3 individuals who know each other and are comfortable spending days on end locked up in an office, working on the next big idea. Adding new partners or employees represents a large undertaking, and requires serious looking into . If you make the mistake of adding the wrong individual, productivity in the office takes a nose dive and the cost of replacing the employee is high. So use this list along with your own requirements to ensure that you select carefully.

2. Ironclad contracts for new employees: A lot of private data is shared regarding costing, pricing and internal processes with new employees. Many startup companies fail to get employees to sign non compete and confidentiality clauses. The risk of losing an employee to a competitor with your trade secrets represents a phenomenally large risk against which you should take counter measures .

3. Quarterly one of one reviews: I usually have quarterly reviews with most of the individuals whom I work closely with . This is an open and candid session where I learn about their level of satisfaction, frustrations and other problem which may be hindering them from performing up to mark. These sessions provide critical feedback and allow you to take precautionary measures to ensure you do whatever is necessary to retain your most talented performers.

4. Provide training and development: Most startups run on strict financial budgets, however if they have used strict budgeting controls as stated in my previous post, a budget for training and development should be in place to provide your team with training ,which will help improve their productivity and skills. This helps in creating stronger bonds between management and employees. It also increases the overall morale and productivity levels of the organization.

5 Fair rewards & recognition: If your team is generating high levels of growth for your organization they need to be compensated fairly. In some startup companies, which are not heavily venture backed this can be a challenge as funds are usually very tight. However, management needs to ensure that performance and rewards are tightly linked. If they are not, you stand a high level of risk to lose your rainmakers. To read more about rewards and recognition please click here.

We have to do whatever is necessary to ensure that we cater to our team wherever possible. It is a difficult juggling act to manage expectations and requirement, at the same time maintaining an environment where productivity and morale is high. If not correctly maintained there can be nasty repercussions which can bring your organization to a standstill and expose it to extremely high levels of risk. However if it is correctly managed, this asset becomes your organization’s competitive advantage, and paves the way for greater achievements.

 

 

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