Dealing With Difficult People | Notes

Harvard Business School Press. Dealing With Difficult People. Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation, 2005. (140 pages)



You can no longer deny it: Difficult people are everywhere,… (1)

Part Art, Part Science

So where do you begin mastering the crucial managerial talent? You must start by making a distinction between behavior that calls for immediate dismissal of an employee–such as stealing or other outright illegal actions–and behavior that’s problematic but not criminal. (2)

But a more daunting challenge remains: dealing with behavior that’s not criminal but is destructive to the company’s operations and culture. (3)

The Force of Emotion

Although it’s easy to blame a (5) person for being “difficult” and view problematic actions as the restful of a character flaw, you’ll get much better results if you approach the problem as one of behavior. (6)

Matching Strategy to Specific Problem Behaviors

Evaluating Your Own Role in Problem Behavior

Communicating About Difficult Behavior

What Types of Difficult People Must You Deal With?

Today’s Angry Workplace / An Interview with R. Brayton Bowen

In adults, anger is often triggered by the threatened loss of something greatly valued. (24)

Do managers need to manage their own anger, as well as the anger of their employees?

In summary, then: the major to-dos for a manager?

First: Develop a plan for anger management, including establishing policies, retaining employee assistance program counselors, and identifying special resources in advance to assist with crisis situations. (31)

Second: Invest in more training and development; … (31)

Third: Coach, train, and develop yourself and your employees to become independent agents, specialists who add value to whatever assignments they’re on and who can be come “quick-change artists,” learning to adapt to new situations readily, even if it means going elsewhere. (31)

[via: Don’t be loyal. Loyalty can often hurt an organization. Be committed. Loyalty is often blind obedience or such positive support it lacks critique. Commitment is willing to engage in difficult conversations because you know that what we do in this conversation makes a difference; it matters to the organization. And those in power need to hear it because there are significant negative consequences if we don’t engage with the truth.]

Crabs, Cranks, and Curmudgeons: How to Manage Difficult People / Constantine von Hoffman

To begin, check whether the troublesome employee is in the wrong job. (35)

[via: This is my 80/20 rule; 80% of your job is right in line with your passions, gifts, and it’s what causes you to love to get up and come to work. 20% of it is the grunge that we all have to do, but there’s little joy. The principle is that one’s job position must be minimum 80/20 for high employee engagement. If it drops to 60/40, the potential for productivity, positive culture and morale declines significantly.]

Next, check whether the job itself requires them to be difficult. (36)

Organizations that are growing fast–and those with a demanding performance environment–often develop a leadership vacuum. (36)

[Managers] need first of all to be aware of their own emotional responses and how people like that push their buttons. They have to be able to control their temper and their fear, depending upon what their situation is with that individual. They need to be confident and assertive in the way that they work with people like that–not intimidated or overwhelmed, but at the same time empathic and diplomatic.

[Difficult] people…frequently are very low in self-awareness – Cary Cherniss

Don’t Just Do Something–Sit There / David Whitemyer

Ask yourself: How can this conflict best be used to improve the interactions in this group? (43)

…42% of the time the mangers surveyed is spent dealing with office conflict. …if managers never allow employees to work out conflicts among themselves, they’ll never meld into a high-performing unit. (43)

Intervening is a strategy, just like not intervening is a strategy. – Christine Kutsko

Your decision to (43) intervene–or not–should be the result of considered thought, not an emotional response to conflict. After all, conflict often occurs among people who care about what they’re doing. Perhaps, instead of ending the dispute as quickly as possible, your chief concern should be: How can this conflict best be used to improve the interactions in this group? (44)

Will You Help or Heave Your Underperformers? / Paul Michelman

Look Before You Leap

Diagnose and Prescribe

Give Solutions Reasonable Time To Take

Consequences: The Secret to Holding People Accountable / Lila Booth

There is often confusion between efforts and results. Giving it your best try doesn’t count–producing is what matters. – Mark Hansen

Step #1: Drafting an Agreement

Step #2: Monitoring Performance

Step #3: Applying the Consequences

…failure to reward successful performance is just as serious an omission as letting poor performance slide. (52)

Step #4: Updating Performance Expectations

Are You Causing Problem Behavior?

Don’t Avoid Conflicts–Manage Them / Monk J. Williams

Conflicts arises from people’s needs, and needs unmet do not go away. They just lie in wait for the next opportunity to express themselves, which in organizational life usually means they will continue to get in the way of something w want or need to get done. (58)

When conflict is rising, energy is directed away from tasks, and engaged instead in interpersonal issues. If you manage the conflict, people are freed to put their focus back on the tasks. – Ellen Raider

The story illustrates a classic bungle in problem solving–the failure to probe for the real underlying need or want. Advice from the experts: Don’t assume you understand what’s going on. Find out, by asking questions, proposing alternative solutions, and exploring the responses of all parties. (62)

How to Handle Difficult Behaviors / Ken Cloke and Joan Goldsmith

Define the problem as a person and you’re in trouble: Your only remedy is to fire the offender (often impossible or illegal) or send him elsewhere (to become someone else’s problem). By contrast, if you define the problem as difficult behavior, you can do something about it. People can’t change who they are, but nearly everyone can change the way they act. (67)

Questions to ask

What makes the behavior difficult for me?

What effect has my response had on their behavior?

Is the behavior a way of coping with a dysfunctional system? When organizations don’t encourage input, people naturally feel they have to shout to be heard. (69)

Is the organization somehow rewarding negative behavior?

Strategies for Addressing Difficult Behavior

Get it out in the open.

Agree on ground rules for communication.

Act promptly…

…and frequently.

When to Walk Away from a Fight / Rebecca M. Saunders

…the desire to win a disagreement, no matter how insignificant, can create a “dominance mindset” that can be greater than the issue itself. (73)

We can get so caught up in a disagreement that we lose sight about what winning might cost–including the trust of another, vindictiveness, self-righteousness. – BJ Gallagher Hateley

Five Questions About Business/Personal Relationships with Ronna Lichtenberg

Business success depends on your ability to bring the full richness and power of your personality to bear on your relationships with coworkers, clients, and business partners,… In multiple-role relationships that combine business and personal ties, however, you have to be exquisitely attentive to boundary issues–or else you’ll pay a heavy price. (81)

The Four Myths of Feedback / Jamie Higgins and Diana Smith

Myth 1: My reality is the reality, and my job is to get you to see it. Astute executives don’t buy this myth. They realize that their view is always partial, and they’re more interested in getting it right than in being right. So they make a point of inquiring into the other person’s views. (86)

Myth 2: Defensiveness is bad and should be avoided at all costs. …instead of discounting or trying to overcome their concerns, you might try asking more bout the obstacles they face, and offer advice about how to tackle them. (87)

Myth 3: This performance problem has nothing to do with me. “To what extent have I made it difficult to get the project done not time?” … “Is there anything I could be doing differently?” (87)

Myth 4: Mistakes are crimes to be covered up, punished, or both.

How Should You Communicate with Difficult People?

The major weapon in your management arsenal for dealing with difficult people is your communicate savvy. (89)

Manage Negativity

Communicate the Vision

In a recent survey, 39% of respondents said management never reveals the real reason behind decisions that affect employees. (92)

Give Employees the Tools They Need

Helplessness breeds hopelessness. (92)

Checklist for Conducting a Disciplinary Conversation / Edward Prewitt

Consider that the words “discipline” and “disciple” share an etymological root focused on teaching or molding. As opposed to dealing with the occasional outrageous offender, the more common challenge for managers is to use a disciplinary conversion to foster improvement in a worker who has made a mistake. (101)

Psychologists have long known that positive reinforcement is the most effective method of affecting conduct. (101)

Performance Review Anxiety / Beverly Ballaro

Bear in mind that the guiding tenet behind successful comedy, opera, and baseball also holds true for fair and effective performance reviews: it really is, as the saying goes, all in the delivery. Not just the substance of what (109) you write but especially how you write it can spell the crucial difference between a productive, motivational critique and a recipe for simmering resentment. (110)

“I just Can’t Bring Myself to Talk About That with Her.”: How to Have Difficult Conversations

Conversations take place on three different levels. First, there’s the “What happened?” conversation about what is actually going on. (119)

Second, there’s the “Feelings” conversation. (119)

And finally, there’s the “Identity” conversation. Dos this conversation threaten our definitions of self? (119)

…focus not on what is true, but on what is important. (119)

…”shift to a learning conversation.” (120)

…you need to disentangle intention from impact. (120)

…we need to learn to describe our own feelings carefully, without merely venting, and give others the time and respect to do the same. (120)

The Communication Secrets of Executive Coaches: How to Have Conversations That Lead to Action / Nick Morgan

…it does indeed take crisis to make people want to change their behavior–or even listen to a coach. (123)

Mark Twain wrote a great line about congressmen being people who would never lie ‘unless it was absolutely convenient.’ (124)

[via: I could not source / confirm this Mark Twain quote.]

If you are for real, good people will want to be around you. Because even though we all want to seek and ultimately claim an optimized reality, the present-moment truth remains very, very attractive. – Thomas J. Leonard

If you can’t–or won’t–be truly passionate about your business communications, then you are in the wrong business. (227)

Key to strong relationships are two further qualities effective communicators need to possess: awareness and self-knowledge. (128)

Feedback in the Future Tense / Hal Plotkin

…begin by changing the conversation from one primarily about performance–the past–to one about change–the future. … Give the employee a goal to work toward, not a legacy to overcome. (132)

Managers and HR people need to assess employee’s change capacity and not just their performance. (132)

…managers should keep in mind the distinction between factual and emotional feedback. (134)

…remember that communication is more than words: it’s also body language, facial expressions, and tone of voice. The wrong moves in any of these areas can exacerbate problem behavior by turning feedback sessions into confrontations rather than constructive and productive exchanges. (134)

…people are more likely to follow through on their own ideas than on what they are told to do by someone else. (137)

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