12 Most Abracadabra Ways to Make Difficult People Disappear

12 Most Abracadabra Ways to Make Difficult People Disappear

When working with others in a fast paced environment, conflict and stress will occur, but it doesn’t have to stick around or become the norm. Both elements can disappear if leaders are willing to make one decision: allowing stress and conflict to lead the team or leading its impact to a minimum.

Leaders who choose the first option focus daily on those creating and suffering from conflict, along with those on the sidelines who feel involved or impacted by the stress of others. This choice makes things worse and fortifies its staying power. Leaders who choose to minimize the impact of people with difficult behavior are often pleasantly surprised that at some point the behavior, and occasionally the very people sharing it, just disappears.

Consider these 12 solutions to help you “deal” with difficult people, and achieve better results:

1. Change your perceptions

Perceptions are our point of view and as we don’t tend to argue with our own data, what we see, is real, at least for us. The key question then becomes: are your perceptions accurate and a true reflection of what the other person is thinking or meaning by their behavior? Did they mean to rattle your nerves on purpose or are they just doing what they do… just like you? In my book, Make Difficult People Disappear, I explain that most labels we have assigned to others are predetermined judgments that are unfair. When we’re focused on everything and everyone being difficult and interfering with progress, we sabotage ourselves and employees. Just as magically as we want the difficulty to disappear, more of it seems to show up when we assign labels that don’t make sense or help the situation.

2. Reduce stress

Leaders experience feelings of overwhelm and anxiety just like everyone else. They are subject to stress. Stress is the result of one’s needs not being met. Those you lead are looking to you to meet their needs. Whether they have a need for action and results, as many leaders do, or perhaps that of recognition for specific accomplishments, stability, certainty, constancy, popularity, or being able to express themselves, your efforts to meet the needs of others will reduce your stress. Knowing what YOU need — and ensuring that you’re getting those elements — will also reduce your stress. When anxiety is reduced from both perspectives — yours and theirs — productivity and fun in the workplace soars and serves to continue a stress free cycle of working together.

3. Set boundaries

How many times a day do you hear “gotta sec?” In an environment where leaders are seen as effective if they have an “open door” policy, but are often struggling with delicate balance of getting things done and being available, setting boundaries can be difficult. The truly successful managers and leaders effectively block out time and politely let others know when they are available, with an open door or other signals. Also, they let people they lead know their preferred form of communication. Do you respond to emails or texts faster than a voicemail? Do people know you’re always accessible, even if it’s adding to overwhelm? Difficult people may grimace when you’re not at their beck and call, but they’ll adjust and disappear if you consistently train them how to treat you by setting appropriate boundaries.

4. Assess before you arrest

We often label others as difficult rather quickly. If they don’t communicate the way you do, as the leader, conversations are strained and for simplification we “convict” them of being difficult. Assess what they need from you first, and not just in the way of task fulfillment or achievement, but what do they really need. Consciously make an assessment before you make a figurative arrest and put them in the land of the “difficult.” Why? Once you assign a person THIS assessment, it has a tendency to stick. You’ll soon begin looking for ways to affirm that label.

5. Eliminate conflict

Conflict occurs when two parties vying for what they need to hear, feel, or experience, aren’t getting it and continue to request it in a way the other individual doesn’t understand. To eliminate conflict, listen longer before you speak and review the needs of the person with whom you are communicating. Then consider the timing of yours and their request. Most come into a conversation with good intentions, but sometimes struggle with articulating what is needed. Leaders learn to recognize what is under the emotional communication in conflict and begin to address the real issue at hand.

6. Communicate more clearly

In the book, Make Difficult People Disappear, communication skills are a key focal point. When a leader communicates more clearly it doesn’t mean they speak louder. Those who look to you for leadership aren’t deaf; they may not understand your direction. What can you do to alter the delivery of your message so that it is received in a language others more readily understand?

7. Give others what they need

Using the personality preference descriptions as an example, Commanders communicate with a sense of urgency and focus on results, whereas a more passive Relater team member will communicate with added empathy and people focus. They are motivated by “getting along” and will not understand a Commanders subtle use of “when you get a sec,” which for them means “right now.” Clarify your communication so you get what you need, and meet the needs of others, too.

8. Ask for what we want and need

Super-specific language will benefit everyone, as you will need fewer words (and energy) to explain and instruct. Choosing your words carefully and succinctly is beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, fewer mistakes are made when direction and goals are expressed with clarity. Second, asking for what you want and need sets a positive example for others. It leaves less to misinterpretation, shows you are decisive and confident, and is another way of setting boundaries.

9. Abide by rewards and consequences

Everyone likes recognition for their efforts. However, the KIND of recognition they prefer differs widely. In fact, there are four types: Public, Private, Tangible, and Intangible. Give the private person a public display of accolades and they are likely to do anything and everything in the future, up to and including sabotage, to ensure they are never that publicly pointed out or embarrassed again. Have you reviewed your recognition plans lately? Do you know the needs of the individuals you lead? Reinforce behavior with recognition in the way they prefer and you are ensured continued stellar performance of that which you recognize.

10. Maintain the “big picture”

While it may appear that making difficult people disappear involves a magic wand or giant magic beans, it is less about magic and more about mindset. The people you lead are… well… people. They have individual needs, preferences, backgrounds, and motivators. Identifying and then meeting these needs will remove the vast amount of stress and conflict in your office. It takes practice. It is not meant to make you the office psychologist, but rather it is intended to make your job easier and allow for self-management of the talented adults you have the privilege of leading. Maintain the big picture for your leadership focus and look at the needs of those you lead with an interest in meeting them and your desired outcomes for productivity and performance.

11. Follow your disappearing act

Your disappearing act is one of an internal nature and when you enact these steps, you’ll find that the difficulty dissipates and those who wish not to follow your boundaries, behaviors, and actions will self-deselect. They will move on to remain difficult elsewhere.

12. Create and keep the culture

Yes, you can make difficult people disappear. The challenge is to commit to putting these suggestions into practice on a daily basis.

Creating the kind of culture and leadership we have covered is a significant step. Maintaining the practices and mindset takes effort that is well worth the energy. Managers who are adept at assertive communication, setting boundaries, and refusing to label others always come out ahead.

How did you rate on this 12-point list?

Featured image courtesy of  gnackgnackgnack via Creative Commons.

Monica Wofford


Monica Wofford, CSP, is a leadership development strategist, blogger, speaker, and author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear. As the CEO of Contagious Companies, Monica is best known for designing and delivering leadership training programs for managers who were promoted, but not prepared. She and her firm provide training, coaching, and consulting to executives and team members of many Fortune 1000 companies.

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