Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Dealing with Difficult People

All of us interact with difficult people from time to time.    Rather than have a dialog, difficult people make demands.  Rather than objectively analyze a situation, difficult people subjectively render opinions as if they were fact.   They often put the needs of the few ahead of the needs of the many.

How can you succeed when dealing with difficult people?  

Should you challenge their world view and hope that yelling at them will work?  Nope.  Active listening is the answer.

When an unreasonable person asserts an opinion that I know not to be true, I do not argue with them.   Instead I ask them to express their point of view more fully.    I then replay back to them what I heard

“I’ve heard you describe the functionality you desire.   The most important features are A and B, followed by C.    In the future you’d like D and E, but it’s too early to provide those design details.     It seems that a 2015 go live of A and B will be very helpful to you.   In 2016, adding C would really help”

Very often, I can turn a confrontation into a phased, incremental improvement plan.

There are times when difficult people are irrational, leading to a breakdown of the active listening technique i.e.

“Everything is a priority and you must do everything instantly.  Incremental progress is not helpful”

Again, arguing or negotiating with such a person is rarely helpful.   If my first attempt does not succeed, I suggest that another member of my leadership team also speak with the difficult person to gather more information.

People want to be heard.   I find that listening, acknowledging their opinions, mobilizing other team members, and then following up resolves 99% of all conflict.

In our modern era, top down, formal top down authority does not work in any industry.   For all that we want to be able to resolve conflict by fiat, listening is much more effective.


Rajiv Renganathan said...

"People want to be heard"... well said, even though simple & straight, it helps to remind

Kiran said...

Great insights John! I find that there are two distinct types of difficult people. The first are frustrated because they haven't been heard and active listening can indeed make these folks your best requirements drivers. The second kind are being difficult because they can be and it's simply a power play for them - the only way to deal with these folks is to enlist someone with more power...