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V. Jesse Smith, President/CEO



7 Ways Leaders Deal with Difficult People

Posted on September 13, 2015 at 12:40 AM


- By Rev. V. Jesse Smith

Is there someone in your life that just gets on your last nerve? Do you have an employee who if they never came back to work, it would just make your day and be worth the profit loss? Have you experienced working with a supervisor, director, manager or boss who, if you asked him a question related to your job, you wish you would have never asked because their attitude stink in the nostrils of civilized people? If you said “YES” to any of the aforementioned, then this article is especially for you.

As leaders, we are called to grapple with this challenge of dealing with difficult people every day. Difficult people have the ability of getting underneath our skin and disrupting our whole day, if we allow them. Difficult people carry with them so much negative energy that “if they went into a dark room, they would develop,” said motivational speaker, Les Brown.

Unless you as a leader discover a way to deal with difficult people in your life, you will end up being a miserable leader, a miserable person and living a miserable life.

As leaders in our chosen field of genre, we are challenged to deal with difficult people every day, and still provide vision, passion and leadership to those we lead. Here are a couple of ways to deal with difficult people as a leader:

1) Have the Right Attitude: There is a favorite passage in Scripture which reads “The enemy walks around like a roaring lion seeking to find whom he may devour.” Difficult people are constantly scoping to see what can they do to get on your last nerve? They want to know your weak spot. Their thinking is “What can I say or do to piss you off?” They feed off of negativity and love causing conflict.

As a leader, your approach to dealing with difficult people must always be to have the right attitude. Having the right attitude means that you have already identified this person as needing negative energy to survive and you have made up in your mind you will not allow this person to feed off of you.

The right attitude means that you will not allow difficult people to have such an influence on you that you now become one of them. Leaders with the right attitude say to themselves “I know who I am about to deal with, therefore, I am going to rise above their narrow thinking and stay focused on the goal and task at hand.”

A leader with the right attitude—and who knows how and when to use this attitude— will be so victorious that it will frustrate the person being difficult and either force him out of your life, or make him so jealous of you that he will devise his own demise. If a tick has no blood on which to suck, it will inevitably die. Likewise, if a difficult person has no negative energy on which to thrive, his presence will inevitably be eviscerated.

2) Acknowledge their Presence: Many people believe the best way to deal with difficult people is to ignore them and they will leave. But this kind of thinking is illogical. Such thinking is tantamount to having roaches in your house and ignoring them with the belief that eventually they will stop permeating. To stop roaches from permeating in your home, you have to first acknowledge that you have a roach problem. Ignoring the problem will never make the problem go away.

Leadership requires that you act when you see a problem, not that you ignore it so it can fester. Difficult people should not be ignored, but acknowledged. My favorite book says, “Resist not evil, but overcome evil with good.”

When I was over a prestigious organization in New York, I had a difficult person who served on my staff that was just a thorn in my side. While I could have easily ignored him and went on about my business, I decided to especially acknowledge him at staff meetings. When he came up with an idea, I gave him the assignment to execute it and report back to the staff the progress of the assignment. What did this do for me?

First, it put the spot light on him in front of the entire staff. It showed either that he was a bright guy and had a gift to share with others, or that he was touched in the head, and would shun into oblivion by his co-workers never to become problematic again. The latter worked.

As a leader, don’t allow the difficult person to fester in your midst. Acknowledge the problem and deal with him. By allowing him to fester in your organization, he has the capability of destroying the morale of your team and clouding the vision of your business, organization or group.

3) Have the “COME TO JESUS” talk: I used to think having to tell someone he was fired was the most difficult talk or conversation to have with someone. However, with the advent of The Apprentice Show (NBC Television) and Donald Trump’s notable words “YOU’RE FIRED,” being fired has become an acceptable and anticipated conversation.

I have since come to learn that the most difficult conversation to have is a conversation with a difficult person. What makes this conversation so difficult is that often the difficult person does not know he or she is difficult.

A significant number of difficult people don’t believe they are difficult to deal with because they have convinced themselves that their way is right, or that this is just the way they were born, and everybody else needs to get use to it and accept them. I am sure you have heard them say many times “Look, this is just who I am…I am not going to change…”

As a leader, don’t fall for this nonsense. You do not have to be a “doorstep” for anybody. At some point, you will need to have a conversation with the person that is real, raw and honest.

I call this conversation the “COME TO JESUS TALK.” Jesus was very honest, raw and real when he had conversations with the religious leaders (difficult people) of his day. He taught his Disciples when speaking with difficult people to be “Wise like serpents, but harmless as doves.”

The COME TO JESUS talk with difficult people means that you really express how much of an irritant this person has become in your life; you explain to the person what actions they exhibit that literally drive you crazy; you clearly articulate specific examples of how this person has become problematic to you, your business or organization.

It is not an easy talk, but it is one which must be had in order for you to keep your sanity. Keep in mind that as you express these concerns to the person, you must keep your mind open for their feedback. They may not realize what they did to you was annoying you and making them difficult to get along with you. I doubt this very much, but you never know. In short, have the COME TO JESUS talk and then let divine law take over.

4) Don’t become Confrontational: Negativity feeds off of negativity. Don’t get into an argument or confrontation with difficult people. This is exactly what they are looking for. I often look at them as though they are crazy and exhibiting irrational behavior. When you don’t argue with them, then they don’t know how to handle you or the situation, and embarrassment kicks-in, which in turn, kicks them out. Now, that’s leadership at its best.

Difficult people do things with the motive of making sure you become confrontational. The best way to handle that is to NEVER become confrontational. As a leader, not becoming confrontational means being cognizant of the language a leader uses when dealing with difficult people. Refrain from using language such as “You know better… I told you…that doesn’t make any sense…why should you be in the meeting…etc. Such language only serves as fuel for an all-ready hot boiling situation.

Instead, approach it from the stand point of using language which entices them to your way of thinking and brings their defenses down. For example, use language similar to “I understand your point, however…or…good point David, may I suggest another way of approaching this issue…or...that’s an interesting perspective, let me think on it and get back to you by end of week…” This approach allows them to see that you are at least acknowledging their point of view and you are not just knocking it down or ignoring it. They are looking for a fight, but don’t give it to them.

5) Put Things in Proper Perspective: Understand that as a leader, people are in your life for a reason. They are there to serve a purpose. You may not understand what that purpose is right now, but as a leader, it is ultimately your job to discover what it is. The difficult person may be in your life to show you that as a leader, you have to work on your inability to be patient with people. It may be to reveal your lack of tolerance for people; it may be to show that you need to discipline yourself and become more of an active listener rather than always a speaker.

As a leader, you have to put things in proper perspective. The Apostle Paul in the Bible declared that he had a thorn in his side which he prayed to God 3 times to remove, but God did not do so. Paul realized the thorn was in his side for the purpose of keeping him grounded and not arrogant. Although the bible never identifies the thorn Paul had in his side, one can arguably conclude, based on the nature of Paul’s work, it was dealing with difficult people (author’s assumption). It just may be that the difficult person in your life is a thorn to keep you humble as you are catapulted into greater leadership responsibility. Keep a proper perspective.

6) Look for Common Core Agreements: Even though the person may be difficult to deal with, find something upon which you can agree with the person to lessen his resistance against you. For example, on the issue of whether the person should have been consulted before a decision was made, he might say “Who do you think you are? I should have been spoken to and allowed to have input on this project. I am just as important as anybody else in this company.” Your response might be “I agree that you are important to the company, what suggestions do you have with respect to how we can complete this assignment?” When you agree, you lessen tensions. Perhaps, this is why my favorite book says “Agree quickly with your adversary.” Therein lies the wisdom of leadership.

7) Don’t Take It Personal: Finally, leaders don’t take things personally. If you take it personal, you will become emotional and lose your vision. Even if the person wants to make it personal, always rise above their level of immaturity. In the end, they will be seen as the fool, and you will be seen as the wise. There’s a reason why Jesus called the man a “fool” in the Bible. Don’t take it personal. It’s all about leadership growth.

Conclusion: Dealing with difficult people is not an easy thing with which to grapple as a leader. Such a challenge requires patience, endurance and tolerance. Difficult people always want to put leaders on the defensive and will often play the victim mentality. As a leader, you must rise to the challenge and use these 7 principles to effectively deal with difficult people.

Good Luck.

Categories: 7 Ways Leaders Deal With Difficult People

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