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7 things to think about when managing challenging people

The Management Centre

In this blog =mc’s Senior L&D consultant Yvette Gyles looks at 7 key questions to help you work out how best to manage challenging people.

As a manager, one of the most difficult things to deal with is managing ‘challenging’ people, whether it’s because you don’t get on with them on a personal level, or they’re not doing what you need them to do. In =mc training programmes we are often asked for tips and techniques to support managers dealing with staff issues.

Managing challenging people

The challenges are presented in many ways, ranging from “Alex just doesn’t do what she’s told / supposed to do,” to “Ahmed overreacts to everything I say.” This is usually followed by a request for a magic bullet that will simply “Sort that person out.”

Of course there is no magic bullet – far from it. The very best technique in our experience is to start by spending time properly reflecting on the situation in order to be really clear what exactly it is you need to deal with. The reality is that for each issue you need a considered and unique approach.

So here are 7 key questions to help you reflect on the reality of the situation:

1. What exactly have they done?

When we are faced with someone we find challenging, it’s often because they are not or have not been performing in their job. The challenge is to identify exactly what ‘not performing’ means. Is it someone who is not doing the job they are supposed to be doing, not doing it in the right way, or not doing it to the right standards – i.e. on time, to quality, competently, etc? For example, is Alex writing high quality reports, but they are late? How frequently are they late? Is this a new behaviour or has Alex always been late? Is there a link between the quality of the reports and their timeliness?

2. What have been the consequences of performance?

The key to managing such challenges is to remember why the situation needs to be dealt with in the first place. As the manager, what have you done to encourage good performance at or above an agreed standard and in line with organisational and departmental goals (positive consequences for good work)? So if you haven’t praised Alex for her good reports, she may not continue to invest her effort in them, and standards may slip. Have you actively discouraged poor performance (negative consequences for poor performance)? Have you pointed out that the deadlines are part of the quality standards to Alex and been clear on what can happen if these are not met?

3. What have I done that may have contributed to this?

Have you been really clear on the standards you are expecting? Have you provided time, resources and support? If not, it may be that Alex is challenging you quite fairly and there is something else she needs to be able to do her job. What could you do (or could you have done) to help her?

4. How do I feel about having a conversation with them?

You can end up putting off having a conversation about performance because you anticipate challenges from that person – ranging from flat denial to counter arguments and excuses. What’s your evidence for how you think they might react – is it based on experience or ‘gut instinct? How has Alex reacted to previous performance conversations? How do you feel about how they may react? What else could be going on from their point of view? What do you know about Alex – what motivates her? Is there something going on at home?

5. What are the facts?

Linked to number 4, it’s useful to imagine how the conversation might go, but first and foremost you need to be very clear on the facts – and stick to them. What do you know (and what do you need to tell them)? What don’t you know? What do you need to find out (what do you need to ask them)? Be really specific – how many reports has Alex failed to turn in on time?

6. Have you got a plan?

If you’re ready to have the conversation and deal with Alex’s poor performance, it’s important to plan what you need to say to keep you on track. What are your key messages? What do you want Alex to know? What will happen next?

7. Have you evaluated?

Once you’ve had the conversation, you will need to follow up. It’s not unusual – after giving a tough message – to not only feel relieved but also trick yourself into thinking everything has been resolved. How will you know if things have improved (or not) and when will you need to check progress? When you’ve decided, plan your next conversation accordingly. Make sure you send Alex a meeting invitation so it’s confirmed in the diary. Be clear on what actions you will take and what actions Alex needs to take.

What’s next?

To find out more about how =mc could help you with performance management, managing challenging people or improving manager confidence get in touch via phone on 020 7978 1516 or email us at bernard@managementcentre.co.uk to speak to one our experienced Learning & Development Consultants.

To find out how else we can help you visit our Learning & Development page.

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Yvette Gyles

About Yvette Gyles

Yvette specialises in personal effectiveness, change and innovation, and leadership development. Before joining =mc, she worked in HR for several years in both the private sector where she was...

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