Frustrated Trying To Deal With Difficult Behaviour? Try These 3 Simple Shifts

Frustrated trying to Deal with Difficult Conversations Mary Rafferty Consensus Mediation

Frustrated trying to deal with difficult behaviour?

Imagine you had a magic weather wand. A simple wave and you would have glorious sunshine, a gentle breeze with a cloudless blue sky above.

With your magic wand you would lighten people’s moods, you’d lift people’s energy and motivation. In one swoosh, you could banish the grey clouds and make those heavy bands of rain disappear.

Dealing with someone you’re finding difficult at work can feel like a lot of heavy rain. Every conversation is a strain. Team meetings can be a thunderstorm. And everyone gets wet.

Should you talk to them about the need to change their attitude?

Do you sit down and tell them just how disrespectful and rude they can be?

Or could those conversations just bring further gusts of rain and showers?

It’s easy to get pulled into seeing only rain showers when someone is hard to manage. They are moody, unco-operative, hard to approach, resist any kind of feedback, don’t meet work deadlines, upset people around them, rude, unreliable…the list seems endless.

How might you bring some lightness into the heavy weather of a ‘difficult person’ in your work environment?

Become aware of your negative bias

Once we begin to label someone a ‘difficult person’ we are increasingly attuned to seeing only the negative about that person. According to Psychologist Rick Hanson from UC Berkeley evolutionary survival instincts cause negative activity in the environment to be perceived more easily and quickly than positive events. Our brains are drawn more easily and quickly to bad news.

“The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences but Teflon for positive ones”

Rick Hanson PhD

Soon you see only rain and dark clouds any time this person crosses your horizon. And not just when you see them, even thinking about them can send you into a bad mood. Their positive traits have become obscured by the murky skies of irritation or frustration with how they behave.

A conversation with them to talk about changing these behaviours runs the risk of using negative rather than positive language: ‘I don’t like your attitude’ or ‘You’re not a team player’

Research has also shown that use negative of words releases a cocktail of anxiety and irritation-inducing chemicals in the brain– for both the speaker and the listener. The follow-on effect is to undermine the level of trust and co-operation between you and them.

Three simple shifts

Here are three simple shifts that can act as a magic wand to bring some more lightness into how you raise issues and approach them so you have a more positive and productive impact.

1. Start with just one or two key issues

It’s easy to get bogged down in the long list of behaviours that you would like them to change.

But where should you start? Ask yourself what behaviours are having the most impact on you or the team. Pick two or three and focus on those. For example, is it how they interact and communicate or does it make more sense to focus on a task area e.g. following through on time on some work responsibility.

2. Flip from negative to positive

You’re very clear on what’s wrong, what the problem is, what they don’t do. Disrespectful, unreliable, poor attitude… the list goes on. But communicating along these lines will only provoke denial and defensiveness rather than planting any seeds for change.

Ask yourself instead what behaviours would you like to see.

You might feel like saying

“You don’t get on well with other people on the team”

What does ‘don’t get on well with’ mean?

How would you like team relationships to be? What would you like to see happening?

Flipping from negative to positive you could say instead

“I’d like to see you working more closely with others on the team”

3. State specifically what you need them to do differently

When we’re in a negative frame of mind about someone, it’s easy to get into using vague and unclear labels about them. Phrases like ‘negative behaviour’ or ‘bad attitude’ or ‘unreliable’ roll off our tongues.

But think about it… none of these phrases give any clue to a person what specifically they are doing wrong and how they can correct it.

And how can someone be expected to change if they don’t really understand in a concrete and objective way what it is they need to do differently?

So instead of

“You don’t get on well with other people on the team”

you could try

“I’d like to see you working more closely with others on the team. There needs to be more frequent communication about the projects and updating each other – perhaps weekly. I’d like to see you working more collaboratively – that means sharing more information and talking issues through with the group before making final decisions on them”

Of course your intentions, your tone and body language need to be in sync with a mindset that’s focused on positive and supportive development and change.

Not a laundry list of all their wrongs and faults.

If you’d like to find out more about how to raise difficult behaviour issues with clarity, confidence and ease, download my free eBook ‘POISE NOW 8 Steps to Navigate Winning Conversations for Leaders and Managers’