What it takes to fix people
Do people call you to fix their computers, their companies, their finances? I get calls to fix people: an unintended consequence of choosing to be a communication coach.
The irony is that these difficult people that need “fixing” actually consider YOU to be the problem.
You can’t actually fix anyone. Except yourself. Maybe.
This person you think is causing the problem is just part of the larger issue. If or when you do get rid of that person, in the absence of other adjustments, you’ll have to face Difficult Person v. 2.0 next round.
When Hugo Chavez was The Problem in Venezuela
Example: When Hugo Chavez was President of Venezuela (1999-2013), his detractors did everything they could to get rid of him: votes, protests, strikes, appeals, plots, you name it; someone quite talented tried it. Then Lt. Col. Chavez up and got cancer and died. Chavez is no longer the problem. But Nicolas Maduro, his chosen successor as president, is certainly no improvement and seems to be much worse.
Even if Juan Guaido, the young idealistic president of the Congress, succeeds in persuading Mr. Maduro to step down, that by itself will not solve the massive entrenched problems in Venezuela. Shortages, hyperinflation, and rampant crime will not go away just like that.
What to Do with Difficult People
Do not expect this person to change. But that does not mean all is lost. There is much you can do to transform the dynamic, without cooperation from anyone else.
Make sure you’re not making it worse.
We all operate mostly on habits and we all have our own particular success strategy. A personal success strategy is a person’s habitual way of listening, speaking, and acting. Your personal strategy is what brought you to your current level of professional success.
If one person’s personal strategy involves hyper-efficiency, that can easily create tension with another’s personal success strategy that depends on building relationships.
Common ways people make conflict worse:
:: Getting angry
:: Acting defensive
:: Talking to others about this “difficult person”
:: Giving this person too much space in your brain (rent free!)
Actor Stephen Moyer said, “Conflict is drama, and how people deal with conflict shows you the kind of people they are.” What kind of person are you when you react to conflict?
2. Don’t let other’s behavior at work bring you down.
This is a commitment you make with yourself. Other people’s behavior is usually none of your business. Learn how to work around this person, then you can work with this person. Assume this person is employed by the company where you work for a good reason.
When it feels like this person is attacking, resist the temptation to defend yourself. Start by just acknowledging their perception.
Rather than get all defensive or counter attack, even if they’re completely wrong, you thank them for sharing.
This immediately puts you in charge of the conversation, so the dynamics of this discussion can change.
3. Think ahead.
Be strategic (as much as is possible) in your interactions with any irritating person. If you’re having a rotten day, try to avoid meetings with difficult people. Also investigate what motivates them. That way you can get buy-in faster by accessing shared objectives and values.
To think ahead means to anticipate potential friction and come prepared.
4. Aim for alignment of purpose.
That means emphasize what you have in common with the other person, which opens the path to agreement. Even if you have vastly different approaches to work, you both benefit from working for a successful company.
Here’s a LEAP into alignment to try:
Listen, really listen to what’s being said. Note the content and the emotion. Thank them for sharing.
Empathize. Put yourself in their shoes.
Ask questions. Get clarification AND their suggestions for fixing the core issue (even if you don’t think it’s a “core issue”)
Paraphrase (the Swiss Army knife of communication) the other person’s answers to your questions.
By focusing on this little LEAP process, you’ll force yourself to focus on the other person’s point of view, which automatically lowers the tension level and opens space for mutual understanding. Try it!
Difficult people are not going away. I can promise you that. One quits and another begins work. Focus on your circle of influence, be strategic in your interactions with any irritating person and act to protect your good mood.