How to deal with difficult people | The Association of Corporate Treasurers

How to deal with difficult people

How to deal with difficult people

The fourth of our ‘In conversation with…’ series looked at the key issues when working with others, especially difficult individuals. We were delighted to welcome our guest speaker Salman Raza, author of Life's Non-Conformities: An Auditor's Tale of Practical Application of Social, Emotional & Behavioral Strategies. Salman has lived on four continents and worked in thirty countries and this diversity and experience have given him an insight into working with different cultures, values, and personality types.

Understanding ourselves

There are quite a few key issues that arise when working with others. A good place to start is by understanding our own behaviours and preferences. By understanding our own personality types and how we instinctively respond we will be able to understand how and why we are reacting in a certain way. 

There are four key areas we need to look at:

  1. Untamed ego. By understanding our triggers we can learn how to react to different situations. And this is the key, we need to react instead of respond. There is a difference. 
  2. Passive aggression. So many people do the wrong thing just to avoid confrontation or perceived negative emotions. Passive aggression builds and builds until it comes out as gossip or an outburst. If you deal with things as they come up it will ensure that things do not build up and that issues do not escalate.
  3. Personality types. We are all human, but we are all different. We have different learning styles, different preferences, different ways of working, and more. These can be broadly categorised in specific personality types, however, awareness of others’ personality types are key for productive and conflict-free work environments. 
  4. Body language vs. intent. We rely on verbal and nonverbal cues in our daily communication with others. When your body is sending off a signal that you don’t intend (looking bored but really just tired, looking angry when you’re thinking about something deeply), wires get crossed and disagreements can occur. 

How can you prepare to have these difficult conversations? 

When preparing to have a difficult conversation to address feelings or behaviours with an individual, privacy is essential. You want whoever you are speaking with to understand they are important, and this conversation matters to you. You do this by establishing solid, but not menacing eye contact. You offer to have the conversation in a private place. You ensure you are on the same level (sitting or standing). You ensure that you have allocated the appropriate amount of time – and that there are no distractions or interruptions.

When you are having these conversations, be mindful of your tone of voice, body language, and the personality type of the recipient. If someone shouts do not respond in the same way, remember to keep your voice at an appropriate level. Listen to what they are saying – and repeat back their comments verbatim so that they know you have been listening to them.

Showing your own vulnerability provides a connection between you and your colleague. If you share your own experiences they will know you are empathetic. Showing your human side helps everyone to feel relaxed, and being relatable helps you to build a lasting relationship.

When you work with more senior members of the company, the rules are the same, and the issues are the same, but the non-verbal cues may be the most important aspect. We convey so much through our body language; it is paramount to be aware of it no matter who we are speaking to. 

Tips for giving and receiving feedback

One of the best pieces of advice when delivering feedback (even negative feedback), is to keep it timely. When you provide feedback for a situation well after the fact, it appears you have been hoarding the feedback and your recipient will be suspicious. 

The second piece is to avoid interjecting your emotions in the feedback. It should be advice on observable and specific behaviours not thoughts, feelings, assumptions or personality traits.  So remember to be factual and give specific examples. 

The best advice on how to receive feedback is to listen and be receptive. Think of the feedback as a gift – you don’t have to agree with it, you can simply thank the feedback giver and then reflect on what has been said calmly. The key is to think about how you can use this information to improve. And be discerning, think about who has given the feedback and what may have motivated them and remember, you don’t have to always take feedback to heart. 

Thank you to Salman Raza and Caroline Stockmann for sharing their insights. The Career Hub has some tests, articles and top tips on personality types – the full site can be accessed here.


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