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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 Patience

“Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow – that is patience.” Anonymous

When we read about the lives of great men and women, we find a common thread in their stories. That thread is patience. In today’s day and age of instant gratification, patience levels are at a steep decline. Too many people are moving too fast, too soon. Their lives are checkered with dissatisfaction and frustration. Lack of patience has a definite impact on the entrepreneurial journey as well. If wanting it all yesterday is a priority, this path does not have what you are looking for. Patience is a virtue which cannot be learned through text books or courses, it is acquired through experience. We are all constantly placed in situations where our patience is tested, the manner in which we choose to react to these situations, determines our patience tolerance level.

Listed below are five steps to understanding situations where patience is tested, and sequential consequences if patience is not exercised:

1. Strategic Indecision: Instant success for entrepreneurial start-ups is a rare anomaly. If you embark on this journey, make sure you realize it is for the long haul. It will require remaining committed to your strategy, and to constantly adapt it to market demands. Inability to adapt and change will give rise to growing impatience which will impact negatively on your business. To read more about patience and strategic indecision please click here.

2. Marketing Results: The secret behind companies who market themselves successfully, is patience. Once they formulate a strategy, they remain committed to carrying it out to the end. Do your best to remain consistent in the messages you send out and ensure you send them out regularly. Once the messages are out there, be patient, results will follow, in time! To learn more about marketing and patience please click here.

3. Handling Customers: Prospects and customers have an uncanny ability for getting under your skin, often driving you close to insanity. It is important to learn to keep one’s composure when dealing with difficult customers. There are several strategies which can be employed to help relieve some of the frustration, these include correct identification of prospects, using CRM software and having disqualification processes. To learn in greater detail about customer handling strategies please click here.

4. Employees: Managing employees effectively requires great levels of patience. They can be a handful, specially when the organization is growing rapidly and micro management is not an option. To help develop  patience levels for this, learning to set realistic expectations and providing continuous feedback is vital. To learn in greater detail strategies for management of employees please click here.

5. PRICE of Impatience: The price of impatience is, pain, regret, irritation, close-mindedness and becoming emotional. Each one of these can have a defining impact on your business, team and relationships. By not developing adequate tolerance levels to handle the complexities of business, reaching one’s goal can be a challenging process. It is important we learn to ask ourselves “Can I afford the price of my impatience?”. To learn more about the price of impatience please click here.

Developing a high threshold of patience, helps make the difficult challenges we face daily, more manageable. It enables us to enjoy life in a more fulfilling and satisfied manner, which in turn helps us to go on to achieve great things. Everyone will have moments, when lack of patience gets the better of them, keeping these incidents to a minimum, and being vigilant and pro-active about such lapses is essential. It is only when we become aware of patience thresholds, can we work to keep increasing them.

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The Price of Impatience

“One moment of patience may ward off great disaster.  One moment of impatience may ruin a whole life.” Chinese Proverb

This week we discussed several scenarios where patience is tested on the entrepreneurial journey. For the last post of this series I will focus on the ‘price’ we pay for lack of patience. Understanding the price of impatience is as important as developing patience. All of us have experienced instances where our patience gave way, and we did or said things which impacted negatively on our life and caused regret. What is important, is that we learn from these temporary lapses and ensure they do not occur again. If we don’t, we run the risk of always being angry, upset and dissatisfied with the progress of our growth. 

Outlined below is what I define the PRICE of impatience to be:

1. Pain: Whenever we lose patience, we cause pain to both affected parties. Often, this is embedded in our subconscious and a recall of that memory, can be a painful experience. There are times when a degree of pain helps us realize all that we should be grateful for. Too much pain however, can be the cause of major instability in life.

2. Regret: Sometimes during lapses of patience, we find ourselves doing and saying things, we would never do ordinarily. It all happens so quickly, and we only begin to understand its impact after everything is said and done. That is when the regret sets in, and if we fail to move forward at this point, it has a domino effect on the self. Regret about something which happened in the past is definitive only by the lesson we learn from it, we must learn to avoid acting in a similar manner again.

3. Irritation: Patience and irritation are negatively correlated, when patience is on the decrease we experience a heightened level of irritation. Nothing and nobody seems to be right anymore. It is like a virus that drains energy out of a team. We have to keep this emotion in check constantly when we are running low on patience, it is one of the easiest ones to give into. 

4. Close-minded: When we lose patience, it is like a switch goes off and blocks everything around us. We become increasingly selfish in our outlook and begin to believe that only we know how to do anything right. This is a dangerous path to tread, the price we pay for this attitude is a serious one. 

5. Emotional: We lose our patience and suddenly, all logic and rationale goes out the window and we find ourselves making emotional decisions. These are usually clouded with the false notion that we know best. This also triggers our saying and doing things that have the ability to cause pain and suffering to those around us. Is a lapse in patience really worth destroying something you may have spent a lifetime nurturing? 

Whenever you find yourself in a position where your patience is wearing thin, ask yourself the following question: “Can I afford the price of my impatience?”. It is important to take into account the larger picture. If we do not, our outlook will remain selfishly restricted to me, myself and I. Is it really worth it?

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Employees and Patience

“The five steps in teaching an employee new skills are preparation, explanation, showing, observation and supervision.” Bruce Barton

Two characteristics often found in entrepreneurs is, the need for perfectionism and control. When teams are small, this works to their advantage, however, when business expands, these characteristics tend to be more disruptive by nature. For example, when the business starts to grow, it is inevitable that more resources will need to be hired to keep up with growth. The selection process itself is a difficult process for start-ups with limited experience. The real fun begins when you have these new resources on board and most of the time, they don’t know what they signed up for. Earlier on, I expected the same work ethic, dedication and sacrifices from them as I did of myself. That didn’t go so well, I soon found myself getting impatient as I had set unrealistic expectations. My perception of the scenario was biased, in the process I lost many good people. I learned a thing a two about patience during this time.

Some of the key things to keep in mind next time you feel your patience wearing thin are:

1. Set Realistic Expectations: To expect the people who work for you, to make the same level of sacrifices that you may be making is not correct. From the word go, we have to temper our expectations and more importantly, outline them before you start the selection process. This way, while recruiting there will be more detail, which will help the prospect to make a more informed decision. Keeping broad guidelines for what you want from an employee, will result in both sides being negatively effected.

2. Holding Hands: The on-boarding process takes time, this is the time to help the employee make necessary adjustments to fit into the organization. Bring them up to speed with the projects they will be working on and acquaint them with all the set processes. It takes an average of 1-2 months to bring an employee up to speed, till they start contributing to their potential. Make sure you help them as much as possible to speed up the process.

3. Feedback: We are all human and we all make mistakes sometimes. Instead of coming down hard on an employee regarding their work ethic, performance or behavior, provide feedback on steps to take to bring about positive change. Doing this effectively takes time and a lot of patience. Even when they mess up the proposal, don’t do a good job at that presentation or keep coming late to work, provide them with timely feedback. 

These are simple steps to take, to help become more patient with your employees. Incorporate them into your organization and see increased performance results, calmer working environment and a motivated workforce. Along the way, you will develop the patience required, to scale the business further and help manage people all over the globe. Remember, it is not possible to do everything ourself. Learn to sacrifice a little bit of that perfectionism and control, it will go a long way, in the larger scheme of things. 

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