How to deal effectively with difficult people
Recently I worked with a client who was a senior manager for a restaurant chain. Although our focus was to be primarily on creating greater momentum within her management team, it became clear that something was adversely affecting the executive’s confidence and leadership perspective, which in turn was detracting from her focus.
When I asked her about what I was noticing, she explained that several months prior, her manager, with whom she had worked very effectively, had taken a position with another organization. She said that he had always treated her like a partner, including her in key decisions and strategic direction as well as providing her with constructive feedback.
She conveyed to me that, in contrast, her new boss seemed brash, tactless and “on a power trip.” He had talked down to her in a number of meetings and had excluded her from some key management discussions. As a result, she had been struggling to find her footing around him. She felt that he was thwarting her ability to perform successfully and that her reputation within the company was suffering.
What is the significance of this situation?
The reality is that difficult people, whether they are superiors, peers or direct reports, are going to show up in your leadership experience. Regardless of the circumstances, you still need to rise above the noise they are creating and successfully execute your leadership responsibilities. Failure to do this undermines your confidence and your influence.
It is important to remember that more often than not, the problematic person is “posturing”; that is to say hiding behind a bullying demeanor in order to create a daunting impression. However, this behavior is frequently a front for self-doubt or uncertainty in their role in the organization.
In the case of the executive’s new manager, he seemed to be using his positional power (title or rank) to dominate others rather than cultivating his personal power (internal strengths and leadership skills) to positively influence those around him. To be clear, both my client and her manager were choosing ineffective ways to lead.
What is the remedy?
So how do you rise above the noise created by a difficult person’s behavior to focus on what most matters in your position and organization? The answer lies in wielding your personal power rather than in trying to change the circumstances. The most commanding tool you have in your management arsenal will always be your internal strengths, traits and characteristics. In practice, here is how to use personal power to trump posturing:
- Regardless of how tough things seem in the moment; focus first on the big picture. What is the job you were hired to do? That is a non-negotiable.
- Isolate the “noise” coming from the posturing professional. What is important about their words and actions and what is superfluous and off-point? Address only what is material.
- Don’t ask permission. Do what is needed to successfully perform your responsibilities and speak with confidence about your actions afterwards. You are on solid ground when you are staying on track toward achieving the organization’s goals.
- Consistently develop and apply your personal power. Hone your leadership and business skills. Become an expert in your arena. Treat everyone, including the difficult people, with respect and dignity. You will command authority as a result.
The bottom line is that there is no need to relinquish your power in any situation. When you do not succumb to someone’s pointless pressure, the trouble seems to dissipate in lieu of a higher order of behavior on everyone’s part.
What works for you? How do you use your personal power to stay on track in difficult circumstances?
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