How to manage difficult people

Originally posted on Business Leader, written by InterQuest Group Chairman, Gary Ashworth.

We’re all difficult people. We all come packaged with our own odd characteristics.

We all want to be validated, recognised, loved, included, promoted, praised, and have a good moan sometimes.

In this post-Brexit, not-quite-through-COVID world, the workforce is restless and if you don’t make your flock feel valued on a regular basis, then the best sheep will be gone by the time you say baa humbug.

There are staff shortages everywhere and the war for talent is raging. Wage inflation is rife; typically, salaries have risen by over 20 per cent in many sectors. One US law firm, for example, is paying £140,000 starting salaries for juniors. Head-hunters are circling like vultures – I know this for certain, I am one – and there’s no stigma anymore attached to changing jobs regularly.

However, because of this very candidate-led market, employers will face a very demanding pool of talent, and this will undoubtedly mean working with and managing some difficult characters. So how do you effectively manage those more troublesome individuals in the workplace?

Nurture them

Train your staff well and help them reach their full potential. People are most loyal to the managers who keep developing them. Think of yourself as their personal trainer at the gym, pushing them to be the best they can be, giving them permission to be great. People, understandably, become irksome when they are badly managed and are more likely to then go on to leave, seeking greener grass.

Work them hard

Workers become more difficult when they become bored in their roles. Their irritability can stem from being underworked. Don’t be afraid to work them hard and showcase that you, as an employer, trust them and want them to rise to necessary challenges and stretch themselves and their abilities.

Tackle issues quickly

Don’t let staff problems fester. Disgruntled people look for others to moan to and negativity is more infectious than the common cold and needs to be stamped out quickly. Prevention is better than cure, ensure you have transparent communication channels and operate as much as possible with honesty and openness to nip issues in the bud before they grow into something bigger than they need to be.

Cut down on homeworking

Homeworking can be the root cause of many employers’ unconscious biases. Those who attend the office more often, and are therefore more ‘visible’, are more likely to get praise, form stronger interpersonal relationships with their managers and colleagues and, perhaps not intentionally, be the more likely candidate for promotion.

Additionally, home working is undoubtedly going to exacerbate gender inequality and negatively affect diversity and inclusion efforts. Those in care roles, traditionally women, may opt to work from home more often than their male counterparts to fit domestic life more seamlessly into work life. Referring to the visibility issue, women risk becoming overlooked in the workplace due to a greater lack of visibility and will miss out on moving up the career ladder, therefore widening the gender pay gap.

Avoid either of these problems as much as possible and ensure you create a level playing field for the whole team who can then grow and strengthen as one unit without leaving anyone behind.

Don’t get mad

There’s no place for anger in business, even towards the most challenging of behaviours. It’s a sign of weakness. Remember that you don’t have to be ruthless to be rigorous. You can still set performance standards and measure them without bullying.

Be patient and forgiving. Lead your flock well but keep them in check.

You may think you’re an important businessperson, but it’s more important nowadays to be a competent shepherd.