Did you notice I didn’t entitle this blog, dealing with difficult people?  That’s because the phrase “difficult people” is not a useful thought.  If the person is a problem then why did you (or the organization) hire them?  If you really have a problem person please go fix your hiring process and then come back to this article for help with unacceptable behaviors because the problem is not with the people.  It is with you!

Gandhi said we “must become the change we seek.”  I want to add to that, we must change first before we can expect a change in someone else.  This is about what you can do as a leader first.

The techniques I am about to share are not about threats or bribes.  They are about choice and respect.  There are three major steps.

First, agree that the unacceptable behavior is a problem at your workplace.  Christine Pearson, a management professor at the University of North Carolina business school conducted a survey about incivility:

“Christine…surveyed 775 people regarding “rude, insensitive, discourteous behavior” at the office. Survey results indicated that twelve percent of the people that experience rude behavior quit their jobs, while 52 percent reported losing work time, and 22 percent of those surveyed deliberately decreased their work effort. The most troubling statistic is that over 78 percent of those surveyed said that incivility has worsened in the past 10 years (Pearson, Andersson, Porath, 1999).” (http://www.publicvirtues.com/Incivility_Study.html)

Clearly unacceptable behaviors increase costs and reduce productivity in organizations.  Make sure everyone (or most everyone) can agree.  Give them time to process this truth.  Share specific instances so they can relate to the problem.

Second, agree on a list of acceptable behaviors and share them.  Clearly describe the following values behaviors in specific observable terms:

Customer Focus

Answer the question, “When someone has integrity, what do you see?  When someone has respect for others, what do you see?”  Do the same for “Customer Focus”.  You must be clear and specific about what you want.  Eliminate all opportunity for interpretation if you can.  For example, “Listen with the intent to understand: e.g. stop, look, acknowledge what is said, and ask questions when you don’t understand or disagree (avoid criticism or judgment).” 

You can then share this list with your team.  Ask them to adopt this list and to follow them at work regardless of any situation. Explain that there is never a good reason to break integrity, respect, or customer focus.  There are only excuses.  Excuses are not acceptable.  Tell them that you have committed to the list yourself and that you want them to be free to give you feedback when and if you don’t follow the behaviors. 

Third, ask the team members to think about committing to the list also and ask them to think about which of the following two options they would prefer. 

Option 1:  Everyone agree to the behaviors on an informal basis.  This means you will not record (or document) any behavior inconsistent with the list.  The purpose of option 1 is to learn only and not to punish or threaten.  If this option doesn’t work you can always go to option #2.

Option 2:  Agree to formally receive feedback about the behaviors.  Ask the entire team to agree to the behaviors and ask them to agree give verbal feedback and to document everyone (in writing) when the behaviors don’t match the document. 

It is probably useful to let Human Resources know that you are doing so they can give complete support.  You will be treating everyone the same and everyone fairly and so HR should be able to support you. 

You may need training on how to deliver the feedback respectfully.  Some people can be disrespectful when they just intend to be helpful.

 You can ask the team, “Which option is best for you?”  Let them decide.  Please remember, this is about respect and choice.

 Either option must be presented as being acceptable.  However, the purpose is to eliminate the unacceptable behavior as a team and to help each other receive feedback and to learn new approaches to conflict and communication.  Research shows that people are almost always unaware when they exhibit unacceptable behavior.  The feedback will be the way they become aware.  The feedback is a way to learn.

 This is about a higher purpose for the organization. It is about creating an environment of trust through respect and choice.   It is also about living the higher purpose of being respectful with all human beings (or all beings on the planet) at all times.  This is a basic principle for success and can become a reason everyone must make an effort.




Wally Hauck is an EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT GEEK and a PREDICTABLE PERFORMANCE PUNDIT.  Wally is passionately obsessed with eliminating the current performance appraisal process because it creates long lasting dysfunctions and damage to trust, performance, motivation, engagement, and relationships.In 1983, while reading the book the Turning Point by Frijof Capra, Wally realized he had been taught flawed thinking his entire life.  The world of systems thinking and chaos theory resonated and he made a decision to never go back. From that day forward he vowed to share the insights with anyone and everyone.Wally is a Certified Speaking Professional or CSP. The Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation, established in 1980, is the speaking industry’s international measure of professional platform skill.  CSP is conferred throughout the International Federation for Professional Speakers only on those who have earned it by meeting strict criteria. Wally has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania; an MBA in Finance from Iona College; and earned his PhD in Organizational Leadership from Warren National University in 2008. Wally’s new book, The Art of Leading: 3 Principles for Predictable Performance Improvement, provides three basic principles of leadership that form the foundation of success for predictable performance improvement and employee engagement. www.wallyhauck.com 
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