Dealing with Difficult Behaviour at Work
Difficult people - Everyone's got one, some of us have several!
Who are these "difficult people" and what can we do about them? Here's a quick glimpse at some of the advice in Barry Winbolt's book Difficult People, A Guide to Handling Difficult Behaviour.
The book characterises seven types of difficult behaviour. The idea is not to label people, but to help you think about how the behaviour is demonstrated, the effect it has on other people, and practical things you can do to stop it causing problems. There are several example conversations showing how you can take control of a situation, confront the problem behaviour and keep it all professional and courteous.
1. Take it Seriously -If you're having difficulty with colleagues, someone who reports to you, or even worse, your manager, you aren't on your own, and it isn't a trivial manner. Bad relationships at work are everywhere, and they are costing companies and public sector organisations millions in lost productivity, costs associated with staff turnover and absenteeism. Bad relationships at work will often lead to additional stress which causes all kinds of emotional and physical health problems for the people concerned. Bad behaviour is costly and damaging, and in many cases it's not really being tackled effectively.
2. Stop worrying about "Why?". It may be interesting to speculate why someone is being loud and overbearing, or why they always say yes and then don't deliver. But it's probably not going to help you much. We all have a need to explain the world around us. We see some bad behaviour, and we can't help filling in the blanks in our information to come up with a plausible explanation for that person's actions. All of us are driven to make sensible stories out of the information we have, even if it means jumping to conclusions. However, guessing why someone does what they do won't change what they do. We'd be more likely to get the results we want if we stick to trying to identify the observable behaviour and take action to stop what is unacceptable.
3. Keep the 3 C's in mind - Context, Cost and Commitment. Before trying to change someone else's behaviour, it might help to think about these three Cs, so you can decide on the best approach. Context - Does the difficult behaviour happen often, or is it a one off? Maybe you can just ignore it this time.Cost - is the behaviour causing productivity problems for other workers? Or annoying customers? Is someone suffering from stress as a result of the behaviour? This is costly and it must be dealt with.Commitment - how much time and effort will be required to sort out the problem behaviour? Do you have other people on your side, or will you have to work against the organisation's culture? There may be times that you decide it's just not really feasible to change the difficult behaviour.
4 When you're tackling bad behaviour, prepare well. Give yourself time to develop and practice a strategy that you think will work. Part of your preparation should be getting on top of your own emotional response to the situation. You're unlikely to succeed in changing someone's bad work behaviour if you resort to shouting or personal remarks yourself, or if you're too nervous or angry to stay clearheaded and see your planned strategy through.
5. Be kind, courteous and firm when talking to the person involved. Kindness might not be what you're feeling, but it's a great opportunity to model the behaviour you would like to see. Listening carefully and openly to the person with the difficult behaviour may help you understand each other better, and build rapport, which in turn could lead to better behaviour. Above all, be firm. Talk about what the person is doing, why it's a problem, and what you expect instead. Don't get personal, sidetracked or sucked into arguments.
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