Adjusting Your Management Style for Difficult People

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By Robert Half

Anyone who's been a supervisor for long knows that it's no easy task overseeing a diverse team of professionals. Even if you've hired well, you're faced with unique personalities that require you to apply varied management styles.

The big challenge is how to deal with difficult people - employees who otherwise meet job expectations but who also have a tendency to drive colleagues and supervisors crazy at times.
Here are some individuals common in any department and the management styles that work best with them:The Wallflower
This employee is an introvert, preferring to work quietly and with minimal hoopla. You won't see this person pitching new ideas in a staff meeting or actively socializing at the office's monthly birthday celebration. In fact, you may not always notice the person is there at all, diligently completing projects.

The best strategy here is not trying to change The Wallflower but instead tapping into strengths. Rather than being frustrated that the person never offers ideas in a formal setting, ask for suggestions in writing or in small groups. Don't rule out this personality type, either, for leadership roles. Those who are more reserved tend to be great listeners, organized and thoughtful in their actions, making them effective at directing teams.

The Know-It-All
This person may be rude, impatient and frustrated that no one else has the same level of expertise. The Know-It-All may be one of the most challenging of difficult people because this employee always believes he or she is correct.

A firm management style is needed. Since this person will dominate staff meetings if given free reign, you need to step in and make sure others are allowed a chance to voice opinions or ideas. Also consider sending the Know-It-All to soft skills training and development to help refine interpersonal communication skills.

If the individual really does "know it all," think about whether he or she would make a good trainer. That way, the person's knowledge can be transferred to other employees.

The Panic Attack
When you think of this staff member, the phrase "grace under pressure" is the last thing that comes to mind. The person is fully capable of getting the job done and has a track record of meeting deadlines, but just the thought of that big project makes the individual nervous. Even you start to feel anxious being around The Panic Attack.

This personality type thrives on structure and predictability. The more organized you are, the less likely the employee will freak out at the onset of a new initiative. Providing a list of key steps to an assignment and citing all of the resources available to support the efforts can be calming. It can also be helpful to check in periodically on progress and provide feedback with reassurance all is on track.

The Laid-Back Pro
The opposite of The Panic Attack is The Laid-Back Pro. This person may be competent, but he or she often leaves others worried whether the job will get done on time. Can that lackadaisical employee really be committed to quality work?

The management style that's ideal in this case is a direct, but casual, one. Assuming the individual is meeting expectations and following company rules, resist the temptation to micromanage. Motivate through trust by giving clear instruction and then handing over authority. The Laid-Back Pro flourishes when given the freedom to tackle projects creatively.

The Competitor
Seemingly unimportant issues are big ones to The Competitor. This person views everything as a contest and sometimes steps on toes just to "win."

The solution to toning down the behavior? Give the person more work. The Competitor can't worry about games if there's a full plate of projects to tackle. Also consider ways you can use the competitive mind-set as an asset to your team. For example, you might charge this employee with the task of negotiating pricing with new vendors.

Dealing with difficult people is unfortunately part of leadership. In more extreme situations, you may need to have serious discussions about performance expectations and attitude. Think about whether the benefits outweigh the drawbacks of having certain people on board. Most of the time, though, you should find that the right management style helps you get more out of the most challenging individuals.

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