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Managing Difficult People: Avoid jumping to conclusions!

With active listening, NLP, transactional analysis and even entire books addressing this topic (such as François Lelord’s, published by Eyrolles), there is abundant literature detailing best practices in the management of difficult personalities / people. This said, the complexity of this issue lies in fact in false difficulty rather than in available solutions!

Managing difficult personalities is one of the most popular topics in the field of team and management coaching and development. When a coach or a psychologist meets a client for the first time, and after initial discussions around what he or she sees in relation to their perceptions of the world, discussion often switches to individuals or people around them described as the source of all their misfortunes. Considered difficult, these people then become the focus of professional concern, and create a tense, sometimes unbearable work atmosphere. This said, when you find yourself in a conversation with someone who claims to be often surrounded by difficult people, it would really be worthwhile to consider this person as the possible source of difficulty. In this case, the perceived difficulty of the people around us can actually be the result of our own inability to control or influence their behaviour.

When we label someone as difficult, we are rushing to position ourselves as victim of their behaviour, thereby losing the advantages conferred by a more neutral, non judgemental approach. We then generate a smokescreen hiding the real description of these people’s behaviour. What kind of person are we dealing with? stressed, nonconformist, rebellious, stubborn, resistant to change, or self-centred…?

Understanding how and why people around us become difficult avoids hasty conclusions which destroy both value and synergy. We should not deprive ourselves of the essence of human talent, which certainly lies in the diversity of ideas, preferences, and ways of thinking. The art of attracting and creating synergy between team members labelled ‘difficult’ was the major pillar of Steve Jobs’ professional success. The latter brilliantly launched one of the most publicized media campaigns of the century under the ‘Think Different’ label, outspokenly conveying Apple’s vision of itself, not only as a brand, but especially as a company with a ‘different’ management style generating innovation through the diversity of stakeholders’ expectations, be they employees or customer.

The ad full text:

« Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do. »

By Farid Yandouz


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