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How To Handle Difficult People

I hate you so much right now...

As a manager, there's nothing quite like the moment when someone starts their monthly check in with "I just cannot work with him any more..."

You don't want this to dominate the conversation - you've got a whole set of new work activities that need starting. But you also need to ensure that everyone feels that they've been heard.

What do you do? Belbin's non confrontational, depersonalising approach is here to help...

Awkward pairings

Personal factors figure very strongly in some situations. Clashes of personality occur when two people have divergent approaches. Here opposite Team Role patterns might provide a clue to the problem.

A Resource Investigator will be fast-moving and outward-looking, while a Completer Finisher will be inward-looking and reluctant to leave an item of work until a given goal has been satisfactorily met. Mutual irritation is the likely result. So also, a Plant thrives on new ideas while an Implementer is more concerned with practical factors.

In both cases there is scope for these diverse characters to work together, provided that each understands and values the role of the other. Problems can be caused when they fail to respect a different style of contribution. Finding a common goal will allow both characters to play their distinct parts.

If a common objective and mutual respect can’t be found, then this pairing is unlikely to work. It would therefore be best for these individuals to be kept apart, regardless of their personal talents.

Coping with moderately difficult people

Certain individuals are difficult in the eyes of some. But there are others who seem to be able to work well with them. The difference is that the latter are more skilled in adapting their behaviour to suit the particular person.

If you find yourself in conflict with someone difficult, ask yourself: is this behaviour justified? Has it been prompted by my words or actions? Would their behaviour change if I reacted in a different way?

Success in handling difficult people depends on being able to draw on a range of approaches. A successful salesperson understands this, and can adapt to maximise the outcome of the relationship. Those who learn to adapt to their customers often achieve a successful rapport. If the person on the other end of the phone is cautious and questioning, it would be foolhardy to rush them into a decision. Conversely, if someone’s time is limited, and they need to get to the crux of the matter as quickly as possible, it wouldn’t make sense to dwell on technicalities.

In extreme cases, people may be considered difficult. They are difficult because they stretch others too far to work effectively with them. However, it is still possible to find a way forward by treating others as they would wish to be treated, not as you would wish to be treated yourself.

Too many people occupying the same ground

Some types of difficulty are functions not of the personality but of the work situation in which two or more people find themselves. People can appear to be difficult because their objectives conflict.

A machine operator may have a production target, while an inspector is there to ensure that quality standards are met. The prime aim of an estate agent will be to talk up the merits of a house, while the client’s surveyor will look for building faults – often with a view to pulling down the selling-price. Neither party is likely to be impressed with the other’s arguments.

That does not mean both individuals are difficult, only that the two parties are embroiled in a difficult situation. The recommendation is that when a conflict of interest separates two parties, the argument should never become personal. Only by depersonalising the situation is a compromise ever likely to be found.

Problems often arise not because people differ but because they are too much alike. They share the same interests, possess similar talents and take the same approach. The result is that they fall over each other, have difficulty in establishing personal identity and fail to gain the potential advantages of symbiosis. They feel uncomfortable but have no grounds for complaint.

Human society has developed by building on diversity through the division of labour. The larger the social or communal unit, the finer this division of labour needs to become. An undifferentiated mass can never be productive. Creating different jobs, where these are clearly defined, provides one means of coping with the problem. But where people share work, natural differences in Team Roles can solve the problem of identity while adding to their productive synergy.

Teams need to learn the language of Team Roles to enable them to work co-operatively, while retaining their individuality and natural aptitudes. For example, a Co-ordinator and a Shaper struggling for dominance in a project may appreciate each other’s approaches when articulated in Team Role language. Without this shared language, the risk of making an unhelpful personal attack is greater.

Learning to use the key Team Role concepts in a flexible way is essential for developing the skills that make for good teamwork.

Next steps

  • Analyse how and why the difficult situation has arisen.

  • Consider what effect your own behaviour is having on the problem.

  • Work out what you need to do to improve the chemistry.

  • Check whether the root of the problem is connected with the balance of the team.

  • Look to see how you could use the Belbin Working Relationship Reports and the Belbin Team Reports

  • Contact us!

Taken from: The Belbin Guide to Succeeding at Work.

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