Posted by: Christine Donovan | April 5, 2010

Handling Difficult People, Part 2

… Continuing our discussion on “Handling Difficult People”…
Let’s look at three categories of  “difficult people”:

1. Those Irritating People.    

OK, I have to be honest; if you ever find yourself complaining about somebody who has an annoying habit or who doesn’t quite fit your personal standards of behavior, it’s likely more your problem than theirs. 

I used to work with a man who constantly jingled the change in his pocket. We could hear him coming down the hall (ala the alligator who swallowed the ticking clock in Disney’s Peter Pan!), we heard the jingles even as he sat in his office. And it was irritating, until one day I had the revelation that there were more important things to be annoyed by.  So I decided to tune out the jingles and eventually didn’t notice it any more. Very easy remedy.  

We can all make our lives less stressed by merely accepting (even embracing) the personal habits of others.

 So, here is a short list of what people can get irritated by:  

— Clothing, hair styles, shoes, manicures (or lack of), etc.   

— Bad habits (gum chewing, teeth picking, nail-biting, knuckle cracking)   

— Speech (accents, grammar, loud/soft, etc)  

— Life choices (who they date, marry, socialize with, etc)  

— Religious, political views, or other areas of individual choice that people have a right to (unless they force it on you in some way of course.)  

— Certain behaviors such as being quiet, loud, distant, energetic, slow, negative or braggadocios. What all of these silly irritations have in common is that they really have nothing to do with YOU. They don’t interfere with your work, your reputation, your career… so why do you let it bother you?    

We can all make our lives less stressful by merely accepting (even embracing) the personal habits of others… especially when it has absolutely no direct effect on us.   

2. Personality Differences    

When any group of people get together, whether it’s for work, school, church, community, charity or other purpose, there are bound to be personality clashes. In fact, it is the rare group that doesn’t encounter some differences.    

As leaders, we need to accept this reality and be prepared for it when it appears, because it will. And as leaders, we really need to set the example of patience and tolerance. We can’t allow ourselves to succumb to petty differences, personality clashes, etc. We must rise above it, and be a leader.    

That being said, how DO you get those difficult people to stop being so difficult?    

Here’s an excerpt from a website on mediation that offers a unique, simple, but often difficult solution:    

From Tammy Lenski’s – :  

There’s a single, powerful and highly effective tool for managing difficult clients (or employees, colleagues and bosses for that matter). […]     

It’s a deceptively simple tool at first blush, perhaps so simple that you may be tempted to scoff at it. Dismiss it, even. It’s harder to use than it looks, because it takes commitment to master. Once mastered, though, it will be freely at your disposal and you’ll find that it can unlock even the most challenging conversations with difficult people at work. It’s a tool skilled mediators use because we know its power.     

Here’s what it takes to master it. Are you up to the challenge?     

1. Adoption of a new belief. You won’t believe the tool at first, but if you’re skeptical, your doubt will shine through and leave you less able to use the tool with any real effectiveness.     

2. The ability to stop yourself when you find your hot buttons getting pressed by a difficult person. With the ability to stop yourself for a moment, you create space to remind yourself of your new belief, which will help you make different choices in your conflict conversation.     

3. Willingness to keep trying to use the tool until you master it. If you’re someone who tries a tool once, then grows frustrated when you can’t use it perfectly right away, then this tool probably isn’t for you. As with any major change in how you do something, you need a bit of commitment and the spine to pull it off.     

That’s it. If you can do those three things, then this tool is one you may want to get right away. And you don’t even need to buy it. You don’t need to go any-where to get it. All you need to have this tool at your disposal is to think a new thought.     

3. Difficult people who have a direct effect on us.    

I’ll save this category for the next issue, because it deserves more space. There are a few basic techniques (and attitudes) to help us tolerate, and even succeed with difficult people in our lives, so I’ll offer those for next time.

In the meantime, take a deep breath, relax, and learn to ignore, tolerate and smile at the annoying habits of others.  There is a good probability that you have a few of your own…

See you next time —

Posted by: Christine Donovan | April 2, 2010

Handling Difficult People: Could I be part of the problem?

I recently Googled “difficult people” and it resulted in 1,090,000 hits. A search of Amazon reveals 325 books on difficult people, and it’s probably the most frequent request I get for programs (next to resolving conflict… one in the same), so it’s definitely a hot topic!  
I wish I could say (what most of my clients seem to want) that there is a one-size-fits-all solution for winning over difficult people. There isn’t. And that’s because there are a thousand variables that are woven into each person’s inter-pretation of their situation, various nonverbal dynamics (i.e. group dynamics, company politics, etc), personality style differences, stress levels, and on and on.  
I used to offer a presentation on how to handle each of the most common difficult personality types (and I will share those in a later issue), but it seems that the more I encounter difficult people, the more I believe that if there is one common solution, it is usually tactful honesty mixed with a bit of humor and empathy.
And… we also have had to face the very real possibility that “we” may be the problem. (Imagine that!) Our interpretation of the circumstances, or the fact that our personality may magnetize certain “difficult” types toward us, or that our family background may cause us to be more reactive to certain personalities, or that we blame current situations on past relationships.   
Think about this for a moment: “Difficult people” aren’t necessarily difficult for everybody.
It’s amazing how “difficult people” manage to get married, find jobs, have friends, etc. So that should be proof enough that they aren’t perceived as difficult to everyone they meet. (Well of course, some are! But they are the minority.) So why do they seem difficult to US? If we can find the answer to that, we can pretty much solve the problem.   


 Difficult people offer a mirror to our soul.    

 I truly believe that challenging people come into our lives to teach us something about ourselves. After all, if we were only exposed to people who are just like us, people we like and are inspired by, we would live a very limited and sheltered life. We grow only through difficulty, not through complacency, so those pain-in-the-neck people serve an important purpose.  
Difficult people offer us opportunities to rise above our-selves, to take the higher road, to make mature choices. Anybody can get along with “nice” and easy-going people; it takes a person of character and substance to find inner patience and tact when faced with someone who pushes all our buttons. A “leader” is someone who can apply some maturity and grace in the face of conflict.  

What triggers our reaction.

If you’ve been working for awhile, you’ve probably noticed the variety of reactions people have to difficult people. In the first place, we’re not all frustrated by the same behavior, which should tell us something. That something is that our perceptions are subjective and have more to do with our background and temperament than the other person’s personality. 
Some of us are irritated by know-it-alls, some by extroverts, some by introverts, and even by personal habits and choices of others. And then there are bigger issues that apply too, such as ethics — lying or exaggerating, dishonesty, blaming, taking credit, showing off, etc. 
Generally, what we perceive as difficult types can be divided into three groups: 
1. Those who are simply irritating (gum chewers, hummers, loud talkers).  
2. Those with whom we have personality clashes.  
3. Those who directly affect us.  

 More tomorrow…   

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 22, 2010

“Why am I not serious?”

I’ve recently discovered the writing and philosophy of Steve Chandler — — an author, coach and guru who has some profound things to say.  Last year he launched “Club Fearless,” a membership club, generally comprised of entrepreneurs and independent thinkers, which provides an opportunity to share creative ideas and benefit from Steve’s insights.

As a member of “Club Fearless,” I receive a daily motivational message from Steve.  I wanted to share this one with you (with permission of course).   It continues Steve’s focus on the benefits of optimism and the pitfalls of pessimism.(Bold highlights are mine for emphasis):

Shift Your Mind Shift the World by Steve Chandler - Join Club Fearless and get your free copy.

“Why am I not serious?   — Steve Chandler, Club Fearless

A person who is laughing, is open for anything. 

People ask me why I am not serious. Why I favor humor over almost anything else, especially in my seminars (come experience one on April 10) and in our webinars. Why? You can drive a truck through the opening that happens when you get another person to crack up.

My intention is to split their sides howling at how hilariously ridiculous pessimism is. Then you get them to become extremely angry. You want them to get as angry as possible about the time they have wasted pretending to be victims. The whole addiction our society has to being victims is the sickest thing humankind has ever experienced. The irony is this: the more privileged people become, the more they see themselves as victims. Just like the more you spoil a child, the nastier and more feral that child becomes.

The problem with living as a spoiled child is that it is a total waste of life. I know this because I wasted 33 years of my own life as a victim. It was a waste of life. Any time we are not creating, we are wasting life. When people accept it that they have been lying to themselves, the truth arises by itself. I don’t have to “tell” anyone the truth about themselves, they know it and see it. And they love it. It is the same truth that they intuitively saw when they were as yet unspoiled children living in joy and energy.

As an adult, that energy goes away, but only a VICTIM LIE can do that. When we keep repeating that lie, and adding new lies, it becomes an addiction. Just like any other addiction to any other drug that numbs the senses. These lies are mind-numbing because that is our intent. They are like an overdose of prescription tranquilizers, the slow suicide that we were too cowardly to just come out and do in the open. Like Nathaniel Branden says, “Self destruction is an act best performed in the dark.” My intention in life is to re-introduce as many people as I can to the light.

I will post additional writings from Steve as time and space permit.

Until tomorrow…

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 17, 2010

The 9th and 10th New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders

Only two New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders left!  So I’m even going to post them both together; no need to drag this out needlessly…

New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders — Nos. 9 and 10:

9. Build and maintain good relationships with others, especially your boss.

Studies have shown that employees tend to trust leaders who have good relationships with their superiors and others in the company.

Professor Robert Kelley, in his book, How to Be a Star at Work, says that one of the essential competencies for corporate success is the ability to build relationships within and outside of the organization. Get to know co-workers, bosses, vendors, customers and community leaders.

You can never have enough good relationships.

10. Praise your team.

Somewhere along the way, many managers got the idea that leading was all about criticizing, nagging and fault-finding. There is an unconscious mindset that believes, “If I put down my employees, they’ll have to respect me.” Wrong.

I’m sure you can see the weakness in that thinking, but it’s astounding how many leaders believe it, even if at an unconscious level. Author/consultant Stephen Covey says that we need to consistently make deposits into others’ emotional bank accounts (sincere compliments, positive feedback) and then we’ll have a fund to ‘withdraw’ from when/if we need to give constructive criticism. Plus, most people get so little positive feed-back in this world, that the leader who offers it consistently will command tremendous loyalty and respect.

So these have been my Ten Leadership New Year’s resolutions for 2010. I hope you find them helpful. Wishing you a great and successful year..!

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 15, 2010

The Number 8 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders

Well I’ve already broken my New Year’s resolution to blog everyday; it can be a challenge sometimes.  So I apologize for being off line this week!

Here is the 8th New Year’s Resolution for Leaders: 

8.  Practice and inspire loyalty.

“Loyalty cannot be blueprinted. It cannot be produced on an assembly line. In fact, it cannot be manufactured at all, for its origin is the human heart-the center of self-respect and human dignity. It is a force which leaps into being only when conditions are exactly right for it-and it is a force very sensitive to betrayal.”  — Maurice R. Franks

I’m not sure what the cause is – maybe it’s the reality shows, or the highly-charged partisan politics, or our competitive American society — but we’ve become a people who revel in talking about each other….usually negatively.

In this millennium, gossip has been elevated to an art form (i.e. TMZ.  Oy..!).  Winning at any cost has become a way of life (“Survivor” or “Big Brother”).  And turning on each other seems to be the key to political survival  (See Fox News or CNN). 

In 2010, it’s rare to encounter the person who refuses to propagate poison.  But no matter who you are or what your life goals are, loyalty has always been, and will always be, a rare and valuable virtue.

Let’s define it.   According to Webster’s, loyalty means: 

1 : unswerving in allegiance, as

a : faithful in allegiance to one’s lawful sovereign or government

b : faithful to a private person to whom fidelity is due

c : faithful to a cause, ideal, custom, institution, or product.

If we had the time, we could discuss a long list of life situations where loyalty should be expected as part of normal human interaction – loyalty to family, friends, neighbors, church members, team members, professional associates, etc.   But sadly, it’s more common (and “cool”) to do the opposite – to critique, belittle, mock.  (David Letterman and Jon Stewart have made successful careers out of it.)

But  I digress.  This series is about leadership… and loyalty is one of those seldom-practiced leadership qualities that deserves revival.

General Colin Powell defines loyalty well:

“When we are debating an issue, loyalty means giving me your honest opinion, whether you think I’ll like it or not.  Disagreement, at this state, stimulates me.  But once a decision is made, the debate ends.  From that point on, loyalty means executing the decision as if it were your own.”

Good advice for subordinates.  But it starts with you.  If you want your team to support you, then be loyal to them. 

If you have a habit of discussing team members’ weaknesses at managers meetings or in the break room, I guarantee that your staff members are doing the same about you. 

Set an example for the behavior you expect from others; protect your team and demonstrate your loyalty to them.

My grandmother used to say, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.”

Enough said.

Tomorrow:  Resolution Number 9 — Develop and build good relationships.


Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 10, 2010

The Number 7 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders

Only three left!  Continuing with the Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders, here is Number 7:

7. Communicate artfully. 

Most leaders know that communications is a primary skill for leadership success.   I’m asked to conduct more communications skills workshops than any other topic, and it’s clear to me that most leaders struggle with this essential skill.

That’s not surprising, it’s a huge and complicated topic and includes countless subsets — negotiating, conflict management, coaching, performance feedback, progressive discipline, presentation skills, facilitation skills, project management, team building, building trust, building loyalty, customer service, and on and on.  

I struggled with many of these myself, still do… but fortunately, experience, study and painful mistakes are great teachers.  

Because this is such a huge topic area, and there are countless books available to address many of the above skills,  I’m just going to share a few thoughts on communications, as it pertains to our Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions.

Here are a few basic guidelines about leadership communications:

  • Learn to balance your interactions; don’t talk too much or too little.  Too much says you prefer lecturing to listening and don’t care about others’ opinions; not enough and you risk having a team that is confused and divided. 
  • Learn about and study body language, written communications, facilitation/presentation skills, negotiating, etc.  Most of us are not born good communicators; we need to learn, study, practice!
  • Listen as much as (more than) you talk. (Remember Resolution #5 – “Turn the spotlight on your team).  Stop lecturing and start listening.
  • Apply Resolution # 4.  Be honest in your communications; be direct, don’t beat around the bush.  But always be respectful and tactful.

For my money, communications is the most important leadership skill you can learn. Great communicators often become leaders; but there has never been a great leader who is a poor communicator. 

So start today!

Tomorrow — New Year’s Resolution No. 8:  Learn that loyalty is a two-way street.

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 9, 2010

The Number 6 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders

We’re getting closer to the big finish!  

Here is Number 6 of the Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders:



“It’s not what we eat but what we digest that makes us strong; not what we gain but what we save that makes us rich; not what we read but what we remember that makes us learned; and not what we profess but what we practice that gives us integrity.”  — Francis Bacon

6. Stand your ground when your beliefs, integrity and/or intuition (“gut feelings) are on the line

The older I get, the more aware I’ve become of how much fear rules our lives.  Fear of failure, fear of disapproval, fear of making a mistake, fear of embarrassment, fear of not belonging, fear of losing our job, fear of financial disaster, fear of illness, fear of change, fear of loss, fear of looking stupid, fear of being alone, fear of aging… well, you get the idea. 

We are fearful people living in an anxious world.  To quash our fears, we may find ourselves doing questionable things or making stupid decisions.  We put on airs because we fear that others will see our fear; we try to appear confident, successful, decisive. 

In a corporate environment, leaders especially are often fraught with fear.  We’re the ones who have to make tough decisions that can have serious consequences;  we’re expected to motivate, inspire and build team spirit; we’re responsible for staying on time, on budget, on target, etc, etc. 

But we also have the same human needs as our team members:  the need to belong, to be liked, respected and trusted.

So somewhere mixed among all of these fears we may have forgotten about powerful virtues such as integrity and honesty.  We’ve lost who we are and what we believe.  We compromise and sell out ourselves and our values; we’ve gotten out of touch with our personal standards if we ever had them.

Someone once said, “Never separate the life you live from the words you speak.”

Learn to win over your fears and live a life of integrity.  If not, you may be seen as a hypocrite or an apple-polisher, characteristics that breed disrespect from those above as well as those below.  Real leaders have backbones!  Draw your line in the sand and don’t step over it; don’t compromise your standards.

Speak up when necessary; stand your ground when the situation calls for it; protect your staff with strength and uncompromising standards.  There is just no other way to live. There is no other way to lead.

Please come back tomorrow for Number 7:  “Communicate Artfully.”

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 8, 2010

The Number 5 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders

Today we’re half way through the Top Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders.  Here is No. 5:


5. When you stop thinking about yourself – your office politics, your future, your personal brand, your bonus, your career goals, and keep the spotlight on your team members, your competency and respect as a leader will soar.

As long as you are your first priority, you will lack empathy, compassion, and you will certainly never be called an inspirational leader.  Since I’m kind of a visual person, I literally conjure up a spotlight in my brain.  If the spotlight is turned on ME, then I lack the sensitivity to hear or perceive the (often) low volume messages coming from my team; I’m not tuned into their frequency, and so there is bound to be misunderstanding, conflict, lack of trust and lack of motivation.

But if my spotlight is turned on THEM, then that presents a wholly different picture.  If the light is shining on their achievements, their concerns, their suggestions, and their talents, then the odds are very good that my team will be a successful one.  Imagine that —  THEY succeed, and the credit will come back to me.  I may even get promoted and acknowledged myself.  What a concept!  One of those dichotomies of life I guess — you actually get more back by giving more away.

As Rick Warren says in his best seller, The Purpose Driven Life, “It’s not about YOU.” Leadership is not about the leader, it’s about the follower. 

So shine a gigantic light on your team… and watch the transformation.

Join me tomorrow for Resolution #6:  Stand Your Ground.  See you then!

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 7, 2010

The Number 4 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders

Continuing from yesterday — “The Number 4 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders”:

4. Learn the art of tempered honesty (or “tactful candor”).  If you’ve ever worked for someone who tended to beat around the bush, the odds are that you didn’t trust him/her very much.  Indirectness is often interpreted as dishonesty, manipulation, or having a hidden agenda.  If you ask people (I have), most will say that they would rather you tell them the truth, “warts and all,” than sugar-coat information that they need to know.

Read More…

Posted by: Christine Donovan | January 6, 2010

The Number 3 New Year’s Resolution for Leaders

Let’s look at the third New Year’s Resolution for Leaders:

3.   Put a control structure in place that doesn’t choke creativity or motivation, but provides a foundation to make people feel safe.  Most folks need the security of structure but hate being suffocated by it (i.e. micro-managing). 

I’ve rarely worked for a leader who works with a balance of structure — either s/he was overly structured and controlling, or s/he had very little structure or plan.  But when that rare person comes along that knows how to give the team a structure that creates security and knowledge, while at the same time encouraging individuality and creativity… an empowered, motivated team of people emerges.

What’s “structure”?  Well, there are a ton of project management programs and books out there, which is a good place to start.  Structure involves planning, goal setting, and a method to track progress of goals.  It involves time management, organizational skills, prioritizing and delegating.  It requires an ability to look ahead, anticipate problems ASAP, and adjust the plan to address problems, changes and emergencies.  It involves budget administration and logistical management.  You get the idea… it’s the “management” part of management.

People skills are essential of course, and most of the other Ten New Year’s Resolutions for Leaders address those, but you can be an outstanding people person and still mess up with getting things done.  Which truthfully, is why you have a management position in the first place (Not to mess up, but to get things done!)

So make 2010 your year to get organized, set priorities, create a structure to track employee performance, deadlines, status, etc, and anticipate obstacles or challenges.  Determine that you’ll get out of the rut of ’emergency’ management, and learn that by being well organized and a good planner, you will actually put out fewer fires, have less stress in your life, and will be a much better manager.

Tomorrow, New Year’s Resolution #4: Learn the art of tempered honesty (or “tactful candor”).

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