Every organization seems to have (at least) one difficult person.
They come in all shapes and sizes: the know it all, the chronic complainer, the passive-aggressive who always buys into your plan, then sets off in his own direction.
Short of firing them (hmmmmm), what do you do?
Let’s stipulate that we are all difficult from time to time. But is being difficult really just in the eye of the beholder?
A truly difficult person is the type that can suck the life out of a project – or an entire organization. Since they are not an occasional offender, they should be dealt with.
Before embarking on what can be an exhausting task, it pays to make sure the person truly is difficult.
Here are some questions to ask when it comes to dealing with difficult people. The answers should help you decide how much effort you need to put into “fixing” the situation.
1) Is the person really causing a problem?
Some people can be irritating, but still get the job done and don’t infringe on the work of others.
For example, the guy in the last cubicle chews gum and blows bubbles. He doesn’t make awful noises and he doesn’t stick the gum to the underside of his desk or on the carpet. So those two things aren’t an issue.
But there are a few people near him who are forever embarrassed watching a grown man blow big, pink and grape bubbles in his cubicle. One day they complain about it.
What should this manager do? Who is really causing this problem? The guy with the gum? Probably not, unless gum has been banned.
More likely, the people causing this “problem” are the people who feel embarrassed for him. But they are free to own their own feelings, and in this case, not project them onto the bubble-blowing co-worker.
2) Is the person consistently difficult?
Everyone has their bad days and anybody can be difficult from time to time. Normally, we just write those off as having a bad day. So the caution here is to avoid overreacting.
The difficult person’s behavior should happen more times than not, or enough that it’s truly caused a problem. Like it or not, Consistently difficult people are hard to miss.
3) Is there a consensus?
It’s never wise for a manager to go out and take a vote on something like this, obviously. On the other hand, it’s a good idea to get out into the workplace, walk around, listen and learn whether others are seeing this “difficult person” in the same light you may be.
The common denominator is that the person is impacting how the job is getting done. When that is the case, then the cause of the problem is almost always a behavior.
They are doing something that disrupts the work flow, whether it’s choking off discussion during a meeting or being rude with customers. In the toughest cases, they are just being themselves when they do these things.
That’s when it’s time to affect a change in their behavior.
When managers fail to address these sorts of situations, they will grow more and more toxic. They may finally remedy themselves when one or all of those involved either resign or get themselves fired.
But let’s face it, there are better ways to handle it.