Author: James Middleton

There are times in life (and at work) where you come into contact with people that can be difficult (in the politest sense possible). Whether it’s family members, friends, colleagues, your superior or people that you lead, you are bound to encounter them and will be required to react to them. This post will deal specifically with my view on how to approach people that you are leading and how to lead them despite how difficult they may be.

What’s at the root of it all?

It may be a bit of simplistic portrayal of how things are, but I believe you get two types of people when it comes to something like this: the first type includes those that have an attitude where they want to help, they are selfless and happy to be a useful influence. The second type of person is pretty much the opposite. They are selfish most of the time, lack a general sense of humility and are potentially even malicious just because something doesn’t suit them. Essentially, it comes down to their attitude and whether they want to be difficult or not.

When working with a difficult person, I believe the type of leadership provided is going to be crucial in making sure that the general tendency towards negativity doesn’t sour things for that individual and the team as a whole.

Symptoms of a “difficult”

Difficult people can manifest being difficult in any number of ways, but the main pattern to look out for is a complete lack of desire to cooperate. Everything with them will be that little bit more difficult than it should be. Body language will be negative, excuses will be as common as clouds in the UK, moaning will be common and it will be like walking up a steep, emotional hill when working with them. I’m sure we’ve all experienced people like this at some point in our lives and hopefully we’re not one of them!

Dealing with the “difficult”

Based on my assumption of everything revolving around someone’s attitude, as a leader your goal should be to get the person’s attitude to change. This means that if they start to cooperate, all the friction and steepness of the hill will disappear. Their innate talents and gifts can be released to provide value instead of difficulty and discomfort. The main point around all of this is that you have to give that person the best chance of succeeding. You have to genuinely want what’s best for them and be willing to help realign their attitude.

Making this happen often takes the form of a complex behavioural cocktail that includes honesty, compassion, grace, forgiveness, vision and patience. There’s no point in avoiding the poor attitude and hoping that it disappears, but also coming in too strongly will potentially damage the relationship irreparably. We must remember that egos are also involved and nobody likes to be called out for being difficult. Patience is arguable most important element because it takes a great deal of humility for any individual to make a 180 degree turn once they realise that their behaviour is ruffling a few feathers. It’s unlikely to change instantly.

To summarise, you’re going to have to knuckle down and do your best to help the person despite how they may treat you in your effort. If they continue to be difficult as you try to help, be humble and continue to try and guide them. Hopefully, the realization dawns that you only have their best intentions at heart and the uphill becomes a downhill.

James is Head of Project Office at Hubble Studios. He loves running up mountains, playing in a band and working with quality people. The majority of his experience has been in online education, which has allowed him to work with pretty much anyone and everyone under the sun (think: graphic designers, videographers, animators, writers, actuaries, accountants, marketers, entrepreneurs, developers and even people in luxury hospitality).

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