How to Deal With REALLY Difficult People at Work

Whenever I tell someone I’m teaching an evening MBA class entirely devoted to “managing difficult people” the response is the same. “Oh, boy do I need to take that class.” Or, “Why didn’t they have that when I was in school?”

There was a long waiting list for the course. Apparently the working world is full of  serious loony tunes.

Perhaps. But as we dug deeper, the issues were far more complex. With a little risk and creativity, we experienced some significant turnarounds.

We didn’t change the world, but we made a dent, at least in Washington, DC. And if you’re going to make a dent, Capitol Hill is not a bad place to start.

The biggest discovery was most often not about the other “difficult” person, but how the changer became the changee in the process. Amen.

The Power of Writing it Down

Throughout the class, we used what most would call a “journaling technique.” I disguised it as graded homework to overcome the number one issue most of us have with journaling– it’s easy to blow off– particularly when it’s hard. They submitted them online and I followed (and we discussed), their stories, techniques, growth, victories and disappointments.

You can do this technique to approach your most difficult person. I encourage you to do so, and let me know how it goes.

Here’s your homework should you choose to accept it. If you leave a comment, I’ll give you 4 points for every assignment you complete 😉

Homework 1: Why is confident humility so important in dealing with difficult employees?

Homework 2: What types of behaviors/people/circumstances pose the most difficulty for you?

Homework 3: Who is a current difficult person with whom you have to interact, and what dynamics between you create the problems?

Homework 4: What are steps you can take to change the interaction with this difficult person?

Homework 5: What steps have you taken so far, and what results have you seen?

Tune back in on Wednesday, to hear their biggest lessons in managing difficult people.

How To PERSUADE Your Boss

He’s smart, quick on his feet, and he’s got power. All attempts to persuade him have failed. You could just give in. After all you’ve tried and he’s the boss. If he wants it that way, fine. But, deep in your heart you know you’re right. You care. It matters. Others are counting on you.  Click here for a FREE PERSUADE PDF to use with your team. PERSUADE-Model (1)

How to PERSUADE Your Boss

Of course, every boss is different. Understand and play to their style. I’ve had lots of bosses over the years, and am constantly being persuaded by those I lead. Here’s 8 time-tested approaches to consider.

P – Private
Whatever you do don’t confront him in front of your peers, his peers, your team. You get the picture. Take it offline.

E – Emotion
Let your passion inspire your argument, but don’t emote. Stay calm. Appeal to his heart and mind, but don’t wear your heart on your sleeve. It might help to tell a story, but think it through first. Overly emotional appeals will weaken your argument.

R – Research
Do your homework. Prepare for questions. Do the math. Do more math. Do the math his way. Poke holes. If he doesn’t like math, collect stories. Do more math, just in case.

S – Share
Share your concern frankly. Speak your truth. Share why you are concerned for the business. Have several supporting points.

U – Understand
Listen CAREFULLY. He’s got broader perspective and more context. Learn as much as you can. Hear him out completely and suspend judgement. Listen some more.

A – Acknowledge
Appreciate his point of view. He’s likely not a jerk. He’s got pressures too. Understand them. Learn all you can. Consider, deeply.

D- Data
If you’re still convinced, bring on the data. Build graphs. Show correlations. Draw pictures. Find stories. Benchmark with the best.

E- Engage
Engage your supporting team. For me, this usually means the finance gal. She’s fantastic. Yours can be too. In my last gig it was the finance guy. These folks are more reasonable than you think. Convince others to care about your point of view. Get a light murmur of whispers headed to support your cause in their own words.

The PERSUADE model is just one of the many tools and techniques I share in my online program: Results that Last– 7 Roles Every Manager Must Master. Please contact me at karin.hurt@letsgrowleaders.com for a demo.

5 Ways To Benefit From A Disengaged Boss

Ideally your boss is interested, eager to remove roadblocks, asking provocative questions, and helping build your career. That’s the leader I wish for you, and want you to be. But, with 71% of workers disengaged, chances are one day or another you’ll work for a disengaged boss.

5 Benefits of a Disengaged Boss

On the surface it sucks. Your team’s killing themselves and your boss is just not paying attention. You ask for feedback, and he says everything is “fine.” Your updates fall into a black hole. You worry about your team, and your career.

Cheer up, played well, there’s upside to a disengaged boss:

  1. Freedom to Experiment – Don’t go crazy, but try creative approaches to improve the business. Pilot that new idea. Try leading differently. Enjoy the freedom to try new things without the need to constantly read out on your every move. Then package your success stories and share best practices.
  2. Broadened Network – Your boss is not the only one you can learn from. Having a disengaged boss can push you to broaden your network. Seek out mentors and other advocates. Look for opportunities to interface with his boss. Invest in your peer relationships.
  3. Marketing Your Work – You’re going to have to work a bit harder to get your work noticed. Use this opportunity to build those skills. Work on streamlining your emails and improving your presentation skills. Schedule time with your boss and others to share information and get the feedback you need. Reach out to other stakeholders. Having to work a bit harder will build important skills.
  4. Strategic Thinking – A disengaged boss will force you to work a level up. Consider what you would say in his position. Learn as much as you can about the bigger context for your work. Be the boss you wish you had.
  5. Teambuilding – Nothing brings teams together more than a common cause. Invest deeply in your peers. Leverage one another’s skills. Support each other’s development. A disengaged boss won’t be around for long, but your peer relationships can last through your whole career.

How to Give Your Boss Bad News (the D.A.R.N. way)

Darn-it. You screwed up. Or, perhaps you trusted your team and now you have empowerment run amok. You don’t want to blame, but you’re mad too. Your boss will be ticked. And worse, she might have to tell her boss. It’s time to come clean. How do you tell your boss the bad news?

Bad News the D.A.R.N. Way

The good news: handle this well and you’ll increase your leadership credibility. The bad news: you’ve still got bad news.

My phone rang the other day, with bad news. I was so impressed with the leadership recovery, I couldn’t be mad. His approach reduced my $%&@&+@ response to “darn”. In fact, I quickly jotted down his steps for you.

D- Disclosure (explain the situation and root cause)
“I’ve had a bad day. We have a bit of a situation I need to fill you in.” _______ happened and now we have _______. When I dug in deeper I learned it was caused by __________ (behavior or situation not person).”

A- Accountability (don’t be a blamer).
“I accept full responsibility. I should have been closer to this. Here’s how I can prevent that next time_______”

R- Response (share your solution)
“Here’s what I’ve already done _______ (it’s important to have something to say here).

N- Next Steps (share your plan and what you need)
Here’s what I’m going to do next______ I could use your help with _______ (if needed)”

Managing Up When You're Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations

Don’t…

  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.

Managing Up When You’re Down: The Power of POISE

When the going gets tough, managing up gets tougher.  Scared stifles truth.  Needs stay unsaid.  Unfounded worries mushroom in the dark.  Unquestioned assumptions breed false conclusions.

Your boss can’t know what you’re thinking.  Don’t assume–anything.  Unsaid needs can never be met.  “My boss won’t understand,” is likely wrong.

Never Easy

I learned the hard way.

I couldn’t sleep.  As an HR Director, I had coached plenty of others on how to  “manage up.”  Now my turn– I locked my courage in the desk drawer.

Until finally,

I ate my own managing up advice for breakfast.  I spoke my truth.  Not eloquently.  In fact, awkwardly.  I was mad.   But he understood.  I heard his story. Then, I understood. We built an excellent plan around shared values.  Now he is my friend  (and a career-long sponsor).

I’ve never regretted telling my boss the truth.

Managing Up with P.O.I.S.E.

A few lessons learned from both sides of such conversations

Don’t…

  • Wait until emotion bottles up
  • Dump everything at once
  • Talk in generalities
  • Bring other people into it
  • Exaggerate
  • Contradict yourself

Instead handle the conversation with P.O.I.S.E.

Prepare:  Make an appointment.  Plan your key points. Write down your intention.  Start small to test waters and build trust.

Open Gently:  Ask sincere questions.  Get in your boss’ head.  Listen with an open heart.

Initiate:  Ask for what you need.  Start small, but don’t water down.  Be specific.

Summarize:  Share what you’ve heard. Be sure you’ve got it right.

Establish Next steps.  Great conversation is iterative.  Don’t try to solve everything in one round.

7 Ways To Prevent False Urgency

False urgency can be lethal in organizations, and it become more toxic the higher it starts. Gravity exaggerates false urgency.

How You Are Unknowingly Creating False Urgency

Even if you are an empowering, enlightened leader, if you are the “boss” and you say “jump” (through your words or unintentional reactions), your team will likely start jumping.

Since it’s difficult to jump and do much else at the same time. The important work you really want your team to do gets put to the side.

And if YOUR boss reacts with false urgency and you start jumping they will likely jump higher or deeper.

More balls are dropped in all that jumping.

In fact your team may begin anticipating your reactions, and doing all kinds of jumping and gymnastics without being asked.

In many organizations, the whole urgent vs. important matrix is trumped when someone in authority has a need. Suddenly issues that would normally fall into the “urgent but not important” category become the most important.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

How To Prevent False Urgency

You can prevent false urgency by following 7 important guidelines.

  1. Build an environment that encourages constructive dissent. Give your team the authority to slow you down (see Give the Guy a Brake)
  2. Pause before reacting. Breathe. Work to manage your emotions and facial expressions
  3. Buffer your team from unrealistic urgency from above, learn to set realistic expectations around what is important (see Chaos Curtailed: How to Shield Your Team)
  4. Isolate the incident from the trend. Avoid the temptation to extrapolate one bad occurrence to an organization-wide problem
  5. Ask for the data you need, but not more than you need
  6. Ensure you understand what is being replaced by your urgent request is what you need really the most important thing
  7. Avoid the temptation to feed your ego. Ensure your team is working on what is important, not doing everything you say because YOU are important.
  8. ???

The headwinds are against you on this. Your team will want to please you. What may feel like satisfying action in the short-term may actually be undermining your long-term results.