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Managing difficult people

At some point, you’ll manage a difficult team member. Managing difficult people is never easy. However, you need to learn to manage difficult people effectively to avoid running into issues with your team.

Difficult team members generally cause headaches for leaders because they require more effort than other people. Difficult people are sometimes argumentative, disrespectful or just unpleasant to deal with.

The worst thing you can do is leave them alone. That’s exactly what they want you to do. But you can’t lead a team well without managing difficult people from time to time. Let’s look at three tips for managing difficult people in your team.

1. Start Managing Difficult People by Setting Clear Expectations

Many difficult people cause problems because leaders don’t set clear expectations for their teams. Without clear expectations, it’s impossible to hold people accountable for their work.

Cooperative team members will usually work just fine, but difficult people need things clearly spelled out for them. Clear expectations mean stating why you want something, when you want it and who you want to do it. You might also need to state how you want it to be done.

Setting clear expectations is important when managing difficult people because there is less room for argument. When you have clearly stated what you need, you then have the ability to speak to them about poor performance if they don’t do what you needed them to.

Resource: Setting expectations is a key part of accountability in a team. If lack of accountability is an issue for your team, Thoughtful Leader can help. Check out the Hold Your Team Accountable eBook, for tools and techniques to improve accountability and performance. You and your team deserve better… try the eBook today.

2. Start Managing Difficult People by Understanding Their Issues

Difficult people don’t generally cause problems for fun. Most of the time, there is a reason behind their behaviour. Many difficult people in the workplace are simply unhappy.

It’s important to try to understand the reasons behind their behaviour rather than just leave them to be difficult. You might just be able to turn your difficult team member into one of your best performers. Many people just assume that difficult people are always going to be difficult. It’s worth giving them a chance to change.

When you notice some examples of difficult behaviour, take note of them. Then take the time to discuss the specific examples with your difficult team member. Remember, the purpose of this is not to blame them or make them feel bad. It’s to understand their frustration and hopefully try to fix it. This takes courage, but it’s a step worth taking.

You can read more about dealing with frustration in your team here.

3. Start Managing Difficult People by Making Sure There Are Clear Consequences

When difficult people are a constant problem in a team, it’s usually because there are no consequences for their behaviour. If you’ve tried to address the issues with them and you’re not making progress, there needs to be consequences.

Otherwise, you’ll get a situation where bad behaviour just keeps happening. This will annoy and frustrate your other team members. Before long, it will become acceptable in your team and you can’t let this happen.

Clear consequences don’t always have to be drastic. You don’t necessarily need to fire anybody. But you do need to make it clear that difficult behaviour isn’t acceptable. If it continues, you might need to escalate and start a formal performance management process.

Whatever you do, don’t just let the problem lie. It won’t get better by itself.

How have you managed difficult people? I’d love to read your tips to help other leaders – leave a comment below!

Alternatively, if you would like to ask a question or need some help, you can send me a private message through my contact page.

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