Written by B. Lynn Gordon (former SDSU Extension Agricultural Leadership Specialist).
Managers and supervisors have many challenges to deal with daily in order to strive to help their company reach goals, be productive, and profitable. One of these challenges is dealing with difficult people. Their ability to lead difficult employees, which create an unproductive working environment and shift the employee into a high performing worker is an important skill for managers. Learning ways to anticipate challenging individuals, step in when trouble begins to escalate and helping these individuals work their way back to becoming members of the team are essential management skills.
Here are three ways of identifying and understanding why people can be difficult in the workplace:
1. Understand differences in people.
It is important to remember not everyone is alike. People with dissimilar personalities and abilities can find those unlike them difficult to work with. We tend to be most comfortable with people similar to ourselves and when that is not the case and we are working with someone with a different personality or set of values, it can be challenging and result in conflict. Take the time to learn about those who work with you, and not judge others just because they view things differently than you. Our instincts are to avoid them or try and change them, but neither of these actions is a long-term solution. We need to accept we all have different views and expectations and it will be most beneficial to the company if managers and employees learn to value what each individual brings to the team.
2. Watch for signals of difficult people.
People will begin to express signals that they will present a challenge to manage, however, the only way a supervisor can see those signals is to be around them. Observing the person’s behavior you may begin to see things like they are not motivated, communication between them and other employees is short and tense, and they may be frustrated for reasons like wanting more variety in their job. As their supervisor if you have taken time to get to know your employees it will be easier for you to start and see these signals. Viewing your staff and knowing their personalities, values, and working style will allow you to avoid difficulties. For example, making sure they know what is expected of them? Is there something in their home life they are bringing to work? Can you separate two employees who have very different workstyles?
3. Anticipate challenges.
As a manager it is your responsibility to be in tune with the working environment you manage and anticipate any challenges that might arise. If you identify stressful situations you need to take action and minimize it as much as possible. Aim to build a supportive culture in the workplace to reduce stress. Stress and instability can arise from constant pressure, unclear objectives, heavy or too little workload, and job insecurity. Review your management style and evaluate if the workplace environment can be the cause of creating difficult people.