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People Problems - Main

If you have people problems in your leadership role, you’re not alone.

Almost everyone I coach has some sort of people challenge. Either with a disruptive or poor-performing team member, a difficult boss or a challenging stakeholder.

People are the ones who get things done, but they can also get in the way of getting things done!

In this post, I’m going to provide some reassuring thoughts that will hopefully help you to feel better about your situation, if you’re in the thick of managing a people problem.

Let’s Reframe Our People Problems

Idea generationReframing is a useful tool to try to view things in a more positive light.

That’s pretty much what this post is all about.

Reframing can reduce stress by recognising distorted thinking.

In my experience of leading, coaching and training, stress is one of the major factors that can derail our efforts to lead effectively.

When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to be distracted and focused on our own needs, meaning we’re looking inward instead of outward to our team members.

A distracted and stressed leader is likely to be a less supportive and available leader.

Learn More:  Essential Daily Habits to Maintain Your Workplace Wellbeing.

5 Reassuring Thoughts For Your People Problems

When we’re deep in the struggle of dealing with people problems, it can feel all-consuming.

It might be time to take a step back and reflect on what’s happening. You can use these reassuring thoughts to help you do just that.

1. The Bad Experiences Stand Out More Than the Good Ones

The first thing to consider when you are battling a people problem is that bad experiences tend to stick with us more than the good ones do.

This comes from our inherent negativity bias which has been the subject of significant research.

From an evolutionary perspective (discussed in this article from Idea to Value), this makes sense to me. Missing out on something good (such as food or water) wouldn’t have delivered immediate consequences, but failing to be alert to negative events (such as a predator) may involve a swift death.

Of course, this doesn’t apply so much these days, because we’re unlikely to meet death in our generally civilised workplaces.

Negativity Bias

It’s worth keeping in mind that your frustrating people problems are likely to stand out more than any positive interactions you are having.

This can provide an unbalanced perspective which may have us believing that “it’s all going to custard” (as a former colleague of mine liked to put it), when in fact it might not be so disastrous.

So what do we do about this? Well, we can try to put things back in balance.

We can instead pay closer attention to the positive aspects of our team. The helpful, capable team member who supports you and the team. We can also look for potential allies in these positive team members, to help influence the rest of the team into more positive behaviours.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #200: How to Feel More Positive at Work.

2. It’s (Probably) Not All About You

When we are beset by people problems, we have a tendency to take them personally.

When someone is disrespectful to us, or won’t do what we say, we can start to view it as a personal attack.

But in reality, this isn’t likely to be true.

Yes, you may be the target of the behaviour, but that doesn’t make you the cause. Let’s take a closer look.

Remember the Iceberg

If you’ve been reading my other articles, you’ll know that I like the Iceberg Model of Human Behaviour. And yes, I’m mentioning it again.

The iceberg metaphor tells us that the behaviour we see from people is only part of the story. What drives their behaviour lies beneath the surface, and is not always visible to the naked eye.

At the tip of the iceberg, we can observe behaviours, body language, general appearance, what people say and how they say it.

Beneath the waterline, there is much more going on.

The Iceberg Sketch

We have things like cultural background, past experiences, mental and physical health, stress, motivations, skills, values, attitudes, emotions, beliefs, fears, insecurities, life challenges … and the list goes on.

The thing to keep in mind is that most of what is at play is not always visible to us. And therefore, it can’t be all about you, can it?

Let’s look at an example that I have experienced, using some made up characters.

Annoyed at the Promotion

Anthony is a colleague of yours. He went for the role of manager, like you did. But you got it and he didn’t, so now you’re his boss.

Since your promotion, Anthony has been difficult. He hasn’t been putting in much effort, and he has been disrespectful towards you. It’s pretty frustrating.

This situation can feel like a personal attack on you, because you stood in Anthony’s way for the promotion.

But actually, you haven’t really done anything wrong, you simply applied for the job.

Could it be, instead, that there are other factors at play? Perhaps:

  • Anthony was banking on the promotion for extra money to help with the payments for his new house
  • He feels ashamed about telling his partner that he didn’t get the job
  • He feels undervalued at work; or
  • Anthony feels frustrated that he isn’t where he wants to be in his career.

So again, you could be the target. But that doesn’t make it all about you. Keep this in mind, and you may be able to approach your people problems with compassion, empathy and less fear and frustration.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #149: Steps to Break Negative Behaviour Patterns.

3. What You’re Doing Might Be Working

If you are experiencing friction or bad behaviour as part of your people problem, you might be onto something.

Especially if you’re trying to improve the team, hold people accountable (when they weren’t before) or hit challenging targets.

Frustrated leaderSometimes when we see people acting out, it’s a defence mechanism.

And what do they want?

They want you to go away and leave them alone.

What you’re trying to do might actually be working, but it may be making people feel uncomfortable.

Of course, we cannot just smash changes into our team without considering the impact. We need to plan them and consult with people to make sure they have the knowledge and skills needed to make the shift.

But just keep in mind that people problems can sometimes be a side-effect of the improvement you’re trying to make.

So it might be a good idea to keep going.

Learn More:  Thoughtful Leader Podcast #129: Are Your People Resistant to Change? Try These Tips!

4. If You’re Stressing About People Problems, You Might Be One of the Good Ones

If you find yourself lying awake at night pondering your people problems, you might be one of the leaders the world needs.

It kinda depends on how you’re thinking about it.

If you’re thinking “how can I get them fired as soon as possible?”, that’s not what I’m talking about.

But if you have good intentions for what you’re doing (either for the team, the organisation or your people), then stressing about why your people aren’t coming on board may be a sign that you care.

News flash: some leaders don’t give a crap about people, unless those people help them get to where they want to go.

As a thoughtful leader reading this, I’d say you probably don’t fall into that camp.

However… worrying excessively about people problems isn’t helpful either, even if it might be a sign of a caring leader.

So for some tips on what you might do to help with your worry, read this article.

5. To Find What Works, You’ll Need to Experiment. Experiments Often Fail

When leading a team, we’re constantly in the mode of trying to motivate people and help them to be their best.

Blog Feature ImagesBut it’s not easy, because everyone is different. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to get the best out of people.

As such, we need to experiment. We come up with a hypothesis of what might work for a team member, and we try it.

It might work, but it might not. So we try again.

To solve your people problems, you might need to try lots of different things to help them improve or change their behaviour.

So even though you may feel like you’re failing now, it’s just a part of the process.

Thomas Edison is said to have failed 1,000 or more times in his pursuit of inventing the light bulb. He got there in the end.

You’ll get there too, so keep at it.

Reframe and Keep Going

People problems are never pleasant, but they are a natural part of leadership life, at least until the robots take over.

But then, you’ll still have problems with your robots from time to time.

In the meantime, reframe your people problems using these ideas, and hopefully you can feel better about the role you are playing for your team and organisation… even if it’s not always pleasant.

Above all, keep up the thoughtful leadership.

What people problems are you having? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments. Who knows, we might be able to help! 😀

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