Managers Need Emotional Distance In Order TO Manage Difficult Staff Effectively
There are two common questions managers blessed by difficult people ask. Managers wonder “Why me, Lord, why me?” Faced with inexplicable difficult behavior, it’s no wonder managers are puzzled. Maybe it’s karma, sins in a past life, or perhaps a simple twist of fate. Or maybe someone upstairs is really annoyed … just kidding! The second question is a bit more serious, and it contains both a lament against unfairness and a legitimate question: What exactly is the manager’s responsibility (burden) with respect to managing or addressing difficult situations? Both questions are important; the first, because feeling victimized by difficult people makes it harder to succeed, and the second, because the answers help you make decisions about what you should, and perhaps shouldn’t, be doing. In this chapter, we are going to answer both questions.
It’s Probably Not Personal
Just to put your mind at ease, there are very few managers who are free of difficult people, so don’t feel so darn special if you have a few of them around. The truth is, if you don’t have difficult employees, a difficult boss, or difficult customers, you are either dead or completely oblivious to what is going on around you. Neither of those scenarios is likely to enhance your career advancement.
Let’s put this in perspective by saying that people who behave in difficult ways come with the territory of being human and being a manager. It’s perfectly possible that your particular difficult person has nothing against you personally, or is reacting to a situation and targeting you as the cause, even if you’ve had nothing to do with it.
For example, both you and a co-worker apply for a promotion to the manager position. Congratulations! You won. Unfortunately, the used-to-be coworker is now working for you, and despite the fact the two of you got along well in the past, everything’s different now. He or she is disappointed and mad. Really mad. Now, who do you think is going to be the target of that anger? You. The weird part is that the same thing would probably have happened no matter who else was promoted.
It may appear personal, but often it’s not.
Let’s consider another situation. Your company is in a mild recession, and limits or eliminates pay increases for the current year. You do your best to explain to staff, but despite that Warren starts balking at assignments and you hear that he has been badmouthing you in private. Well, heck, you couldn’t increase the raises; you just followed company directives. No matter. Warren is really angry, and has aimed that anger at an immediately available target—you.
Again, nothing personal here, although it may seem very personal.
The point of discussing this is so you understand that many difficult situations occur because of circumstances, and that you, as a manager, are a handy whipping post for people who are angry and frustrated. It’s particularly important to remind yourself that you have to deal with someone who makes personal remarks about you. Yes, they are offensive. Yes, they sound personal. But it doesn’t mean that the person hates your guts, or the situation is beyond redemption. It doesn’t necessarily mean that you have messed up.