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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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