Dealing with difficult people

Struggling to deal with difficult people at work?

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Dealing with difficult people at work and in life will not be easy if you merely do your own thing with whomever you meet.   It demands ‘‘Different strokes for different folks’’.

I was having a conversation with my friend who is an HR Manager in a global IT organization.  Let’s call her Susan.

Susan had had an excellent working relationship with her supervisor for over three years. Then he was transferred. Susan didn’t hit it off nearly as well with Floyd, her new manager. It wasn’t that Floyd was unreasonable; he was well-liked by the board and his colleagues in the global office.

dealing with difficult people

Susan was puzzled. Why wasn’t she able to work as effectively with Floyd as she had with her earlier supervisor? Susan was a hardworking manager who believed strongly in teamwork, collaboration, and trust.  She made sure her employees felt respected and brought a high level of engagement due to her relational style of leadership.  Her team would stretch the extra mile to help her in achieving the team and business goals.  She operated from a position of ‘trust’ and ‘openness’ that endeared her to her colleagues.

Because Susan valued trust and openness in communication, and herself desisted micro-management,  she filled Floyd in on only those points that she felt needed his attention. Before long, Susan noted that in their weekly meetings Floyd would often tense up and increasingly edgy. When Susan reported on a project, Floyd often asked for more and more details, to the extent that he wanted her to report all the activities and tasks that she did in the last week.   He started passing snide remarks at Susan, that she is not diligent, doesn’t know her priorities, is difficult to work with, and can’t be trusted. 

So much so that he would sit beside her and ask her to show all that she was working on her laptop. Clearly, Floyd was frustrated by something Susan was doing. But what?

At times, Floyd said, ‘‘Just give me all that you have, to the last detail. I like to get a daily report on the task you are working on and send a mail before you close business”

Susan, though, was uncomfortable providing what she thought would be an overload of information that Floyd in his position shouldn’t be bothered with.

So she continued giving only what she felt was necessary. After all, that’s what she would have wanted if she were in Floyd’s shoes. The problem, of course, was that Susan wasn’t in Floyd’s shoes. Floyd was.

And Floyd’s working style was very different from Susan’s. Even when Susan saw that her way of working and reporting was disconcerting to Floyd, she stuck rigidly to her way of interacting.  She hated micro-managing her team members and didn’t expect to be micro-managed.  She felt that employees are mature to understand what they are accountable for and don’t need to be monitored so closely.  She felt that approach was so industrial age.

Because neither person adapted to the other, their working relationship continues to deteriorate.

Obviously, differences between people aren’t the only sources of interpersonal tension. However, they are a major factor in much misunderstanding and conflict. Susan is learning this the hard way. 

Most of us are limited in our ability to relate to another person’s uniqueness

It’s not just our differences, each one of us is unique, from one another in so many different ways.   It’s almost like a genetic makeup that makes us distinct from the genes of every other person.  Almost like our IRIS.

We are endowed at birth with an individuality that can never be replicated.

 ‘‘It is never possible to completely understand any other human being, the complexity is too great’’ Edward Hall.

That only means that you cannot go through your work and life merely doing your own thing with whomever you meet.   It demands ‘‘Different strokes for different folks’’.

You may however when trying different strokes find that it is extremely difficult as the number of differences between people who interact with them is simply overwhelming. It seems humanly impossible to fully adapt to everyone’s idiosyncrasies.

Does that mean that we stop trying?

Well, a good place to start with is to understand oneself better.  Know what makes us tick and what ‘ticks us off’?

You will find that those highly adept at dealing with difficult people and their differences are the ones who are completely self-aware; accepting who they are in the first place.  It then helps them to respect others for who they are – their differences included.

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