Difficult People: Causes and Cures

Diff People WEB SMLWe all can have our moments. Moments when we are happy, sad, miffed, and difficult. If an employee who usually exhibits relatively happy and cooperative behavior and suddenly or unexpectedly shifts behaviors for the worst, then it’s probably due to some out of the ordinary happenstance.  This employee may need some time off or require services such as a counselor or legal advice that is outside our skill set as managers. It’s those employees who exhibit consistently difficult behavior that are the issue.

These employees try our patience and emotions. However, patience and controlling our emotions are of paramount necessity to help handle these trying people. This is increasingly difficult to pull off when dealing with these types of behaviors is a daily occurrence. Let’s look at some of the causes and cures of these difficult personalities.

Avoid Hiring Them: While this may be easier said than done, there are steps organizations can take to help alleviate allowing these negatively infectious behavior types into the fold.

  1. Tie all hiring efforts to your strategic plan and business needs.
  2. Write position descriptions and job ads to match business goals.
  3. Train managers to interview well.
  4. Hire those who fit well with your organizational culture.
  5. Use assessments.
  6. Be sure you have a strong onboarding program that carefully lays out your standards of behaviors

Training and Development: Even your good people can become difficult and disengaged if they have no where to go in their careers, or if they feel the organization doesn’t value them enough to invest in them.

Set Clear Standards:  Establish clear standards of respect, tolerance, and showing appreciation. If you do have to engage an employee in a discussion about being difficult, it will be easer if you both are speaking the same language when it comes to behavior standards. After the initial conversation, now you always have a base to go back to for reference. For example, “Alfred, in yesterday’s staff meeting, when Bill made his presentation, you called his ideas, ‘The dumbest ideas you’d ever heard.’  You know that this is against our standards of behaviors and those types of remarks are inappropriate, disrespectful, and will not be tolerated.” Now depending on the response Alfred gives, you will deal with them accordingly.  For example, Alfred may be a high D behavioral style and may not realize how he comes across to others. However, the idea is to establish action steps for Alfred. This enables you to keep Alfred on track and accountable for his behavior. If Alfred continues his violations, then Alfred will need to go to some other organization where he might better appreciate others and their ideas.

Perceptions: Sometimes others perceive team members are being difficult when they are not trying to be difficult at all. For example, a high C behavioral style asks a lot of questions. The cause for this is that High C’s are analytical and asking questions is how they obtain information. If the High C has a driver of being what is known in the psychometric world as an intellect, or one who seeks truth and information, they may indeed try one’s patience. Now if the person asking the questions using sarcastic phrasing such as, “Oh common Bill, how in the heck do you purpose THAT idea is going to fly?”, this is quite another matter. In the interest of time, the high C might consider holding questions for a later discussion, submit questions in writing after the meeting or some can guide the High C as to where to find the information, all in a respectful manner of course. Sarcastic comments, on the other hand, do not meet standards of common civility and are inappropriate in a workplace setting.

Personality conflicts can and will occur but failing to deal with them allows them to fester and infect your culture with a negativity that can spread like wildfire. Meet with both parties separately and then bring them together to find common ground and stress your standards of behaviors and professionalism.

Another aspect of the High D is that they may just want to stick to business and become frustrated when people get off track. They are not being “mean” they just want to get the work accomplished. However, there may be some issue that that pops up unexpectedly that may have a direct impact on the meeting topic and warrants immediate attention. Everyone needs to value time and the purpose of the meeting, yet there is sometimes a need to be flexible.

A High I might show so much enthusiasm for an idea that it comes off as insincere. Others may respond by making snide remarks, such as “Well, our little cheerleader Betty is waving her pom poms again.” This is disrespectful. Betty’s manager can provide coaching to help Betty tone down some inappropriate responses.  

The High S behavior may come off as uninterested or even disengaged at times, due to a lack of showing emotion. This behavior style might elicit snide remarks such as, “Tom, don’t you ever have an opinion?” or “Tom, could you hold down the enthusiasm, you’re killing me!”  or “Tom, I guess you’ll get back to us in a week with your thoughts.” Sometimes, this type rhetoric is playful banter between two co-workers who are friends. Unfortunately, such banter can be subject for getting out of control and open for misinterpretation.  

On the other hand, there are behaviors that should be listed in your standards of behavior that should not be tolerated under any circumstances, these include:

  • Bullying
  • Harassment of any type
  • Gossiping
  • Violence
  • Insubordination
  • Incivility

Depending on the severity of the behavior, each of the above require a different process and solution.  Obviously, some items on the list are legal issues and may be more complex. Issues such as violence, require immediate action of varying kinds. In all cases, there are some golden rules to follow under all circumstances when dealing with difficult behaviors.

  • Take complaints seriously
  • Address issues right away
  • Document! Document! Document!
  • Always show respect. Yes, even to those in the wrong.

Dealing with difficult people and their difficult behavior is not just one little action. Maintaining a civil workplace and culture begins with the strategic plan, focusing on business needs, training, development, and holding everyone accountable for their difficult behavior, its, causes, and cures.

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