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7 Key Tips to Turn Your Enemy into Your Advocate: Working with 'Difficult' People

7 Key Tips to Turn Your Enemy into Your Advocate: Working with ‘Difficult’ People

By Susan Croft
August 11, 2022

Most managers and administrators in today’s multicultural and diverse workplace must work with a variety of stakeholders: team members, colleagues, bosses, trustees, boards of directors, clients, customers, investors, partners, and others.

This requires an ability to get on well with many different people – some of whom have very different behavioural and communication styles to you. Achieving positive outcomes and establishing good working relationships with just about anyone is a truly great skill. It took me many years to acquire this skill myself and a great deal of self-analysis and soul searching. I must admit that in close to thirty years in the workplace, I have come across my fair share of ‘difficult’ people. Notice I put the word, ‘difficult’, in inverted commas. This is because I have found that so often someone I termed as ‘difficult’ was in fact just different from me, and on some occasions, I had to admit that, yes, perhaps it was me who demonstrated the ‘difficult’ behaviour.

When facing so-called difficult people, it is helpful to go beyond the external behaviour and try to see what is behind it. This could be current working environment, a feeling of being marginalised, problems at home, ill health, feeling unsupported, concerns about personal work performance, worries about not meeting goals, etc. Or perhaps, truth be told, it’s just the way that person reacts to you!

I am not suggesting that as managers we must be psychoanalysts, but it does help to have some understanding of psychology as well as good intuition into what makes others ‘tick’. I have found that by examining my own behaviour and how I react to those I consider difficult, plus having empathy for the person, I have frequently been able to convert a potential foe into an advocate or friend.

7 Key Tips:

  1. Understand the effect you have on others.
  2. Be empathetic to others who are having problems.
  3. Listen well.
  4. Be conscious of your own behaviour – warts and all.
  5. Be generous to others.
  6. Observe when people are behaving well and achieving success. What are the circumstances surrounding that success, and how can it be emulated?
  7. Don’t speak behind people’s backs. If you have something bothering you, say it to their faces.

Susan Croft

Consultant and Trainer, International Institute for Learning

Susan is a global sales, business development and leadership trainer with IIL. She is a qualified coach and has worked with hundreds of people going through life changes and challenging situations. She has earned her PMP accreditation and is an accredited PMI instructor and experienced virtual trainer.

She has written three books including, “Win New Business” (2012), which focuses on the sales process, and managing customer relationships.

Susan holds a BA Honors degree from University College London and a postgraduate diploma in executive coaching from Bristol Business School.

She is an Accredited Member of the Public Relations Society of America, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and holds a diploma in Journalism from the UK’s National Council for the Training of Journalists.

Susan has dual US/UK nationality.

Disclaimer: The ideas, views, and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of International Institute for Learning or any entities they represent.

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