What we talk about… when we talk about difficult people

It only takes one difficult person for a team to be really impacted, and for the culture to be impacted.

If they’re difficult with you, there’s a 99.99% chance that they’re difficult with others too, and that the rest of the team is looking to you for direction on how to deal with them.

What is your strategy for dealing with difficult people?

If you could do with a new one, I’d like to share with you one of the tools I’m very fond of: reframing.

Reframing is one of the most powerful tools to have and to leverage in your leadership toolkit. And there are three ways I want you to think about it.

Reframe how you talk to yourself

The voice in our head is the most powerful voice we will hear most days and we are often incredibly hard on ourselves. How you enter a potentially difficult interaction matters, and talking yourself down before you’ve even encountered the person will communicate itself in the way you deal with them. Give yourself some confidence and support by changing the way you speak to yourself.

→ Instead of ‘I’m so bad at these conversations’ try ‘I know how they’re going to react, so I can plan this and nail it’

→ Instead of ‘last time I really stuffed this up’ try ‘this is going to be so different to last time’

→ Instead of ‘this is going to be terrible. Again’ try ‘I’ll do what I can’.

Talk to yourself in a way that supports and empowers you and I promise you will feel the difference.

Reframe your attitude towards them

If you think you can mask how you feel about them, think again. There’s a lot that we say without saying a word, and our feelings about someone don’t need words to be communicated externally. You can’t suddenly force yourself to like them, but you can think of them in more useful ways. Here are some ideas:

‘We’re never going to be friends, but I know they are good at what they do.’

‘They’re difficult, but they have skills we really need.’

‘Maybe I don’t need to be so full on and if I back down a bit they will too.’

Your non verbal messaging will change the way you walk into that conversation. Try it.

Reframe the situation

There are always many ways to see a situation. Have you considered the other interpretations of their behaviour? 

Is there any way for you to give the person the benefit of the doubt and assume good intentions on their part? Has anyone told this person the way they behave is not ok? What could be motivating their bad behaviour? Are they set up to succeed? Is there something you could have done to change the situation?

Try these strategies next time you have to deal with a difficult person – tomorrow? – and let me know how you go. I’d love to hear your feedback: what worked, what you struggled with, how the interaction changed because you tried a reframe.

And if you want a whole masterclass in dealing with difficult people, we have uploaded the recording online, and it’s up for sale here. 

If you’re a Lead & Influence member, you can access the recording in the hub, free.

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