Managing undesirable personalities

by Isabella Lee

At a recent Career Times seminar on "Dealing with difficult people", two professional tacticians shared the secret to identifying problematic people and moving forward together

Eric Sampson
executive consultant
Connect Communication Limited
Photos: Wallace Chan

Difficult people pop up everywhere. They can hold supervisory and administrative positions, be clients, peers or complete strangers. Essentially, these people have one thing in common which is perhaps related to fear, guilt or insecurity —t hey have the ability to hurt the feelings of those around them.

"We are all difficult people," Eric Sampson, executive consultant, Connect Communication Limited noted. "It is easy for us to label others difficult, but unfair to judge a person without understanding the heart of the matter because people act for their own reasons, not ours."

To be exact, people need only concern themselves with problematic behaviours and such negativity often emanates from people who are potentially afraid of change. Reassurance that any transformation will be beneficial is essential for behavioural change, Mr Sampson added.

Six personalities

In the workplace there are six typical kinds of people who can make others feel angry, upset, powerless or frustrated:

1. The arrogant: people who have an opinion on every single issue, and become offensive when they are proved wrong
2. The passive: people who never ask any questions nor make suggestions
3. The dictators: demanding people who are brutally critical especially when something goes wrong
4. The "yes" people: those who always agree but never deliver on their promises
5. The "no" people: the most inflexible of the six and are quick to point out why something won't work
6. The "gripers": people who prefer complaining to finding solutions

While personal choice remains an individual's prerogative, there are three paths to change. The system can be altered rendering it more effective. Also, offering people incentives to adjust is a possibility, however success cannot be guaranteed long term if overall mindset remains the same. "The important thing to modify is ourselves," said Mr Sampson. "With total control over what we do to other people, an attempt to change our own perspective is often the wisest choice."

According to Mr Sampson, "gripers" have a tendency to complain about the workplace with statements like "I hate the company". Instead of agreeing, an act that could intensify the destructiveness, he suggested that people may counter such negativity with "Really? I love working here."

Mr Sampson elaborated on the fact that different perceptions are often the problem but this is an inevitable part of life due to individual sensitivities and experiences. Therefore, dealing with difficult people ultimately starts with enhancing communication by employing diplomatic techniques.

Useful tactics

To gather necessary information for effective communication, Mr Sampson stressed that good listening skills are vital and actively listening to a person's vocabulary facilitates understanding content. Dialogue however, does not always reveal true meaning, so empathy is often needed to pick up on tone, register, emotional signals and body language.

"We must be strategic and combine verbal content with hints. A good listener reads between the lines to sense the prevailing discourse direction and where common ground can be found," Mr Sampson added.

When confronting difficult people, accepting that everyone involved is beyond their comfort zone is crucial. Cooperation will not be achieved in an environment of antagonism. Once people understand that communication is the main focus and there is nothing personal involved, the greatest step on the road to a solution has been taken.

To conclude, Mr Sampson underlined the keys to coping with a difficult boss —w idespread issue for many employees. "Sometimes you have to be brave when the tough person is your boss. If you don't want to feel angry, upset, powerless or frustrated repeatedly, you must find the courage to deal effectively with a problematic boss," he said.

Taken from Career Times 01 August 2008, p. B19
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