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A Hundred and One Uses for Difficult People

I’ve explained the costs associated with difficult people at work, but there’s a tiny spot of sunlight we don’t want to miss. Difficult people can be valuable. There may not be exactly 101 uses for them, but there are at least two.

The Canary—Difficult but Handy

Difficult people can serve as canaries in a mine. In the old days, miners used to bring birds down in the mines with them because they were more sensitive to poisonous gases than human beings. The birds would … well … die before the level of the gases killed all the miners. When the birds either started squawking or keeled over, it was time to fix the problem, and fast! Difficult people, amidst all the muck they stir up, may be a bit more sensitive (usually overly so) to important things occurring in the workplace that need to be addressed. While the way they say things may be a pain, what they have to say may be helpful and even important. Remind yourself that difficult people are not necessarily stupid or incompetent. Sometimes they may appear so, but many difficult people are highly educated and quite talented. It’s just that their interpersonal skills are impaired.

Getting the best from difficult people involves managing them, not ignoring them. It means separating the content from their tone and difficult ways.

Here’s an example. Sam, an engineer, lacks tact and is prone to rather intense ways of communicating. You know the type. Dramatic, even melodramatic, Sam doesn’t pull his punches (or kicks, gouges, and other illegal moves). At a meeting where building construction is being discussed, Sam gets up, ranting and raving about the instability of the structure and the dangers and how the company is going to heck in a handbasket, and on and on.

What if he’s right? Sam is a good engineer—in fact, one of the best. His approach, difficult and perhaps abusive, makes it hard for others to hear. But the company and those at the meeting better hear it.

Being difficult doesn’t mean the person is useless. It means that it’s harder to hear the content of what is said.

Managing the difficult person means getting the best out of them despite their flaws.

That’s important. If we ignored or fired people whenever they became difficult, we would have a whole lot of empty office buildings.

Getting the best from difficult people involves managing them, not ignoring them. It means separating the content from their tone and difficult ways.

Looking in the Mirror - Difficult People Can Help

There’s a second use for difficult people. Because difficult people lack some or many of the social graces and courtesies the rest of us have, they say things that have the power to provoke us to look in the mirror and see ourselves in different ways. That allows us to change and improve.
In other words, they say things others won’t. They provide a mirror to look at ourselves in ways we might otherwise miss. Of course, that’s only if they have some useful insights and if we can stand to be around them long enough to actually listen.

Still, though, a difficult person can be of value provided the costs associated aren’t too high and we are prepared to listen and filter through the static.
Again, we come back to the importance of managing difficult people to enhance their value and reduce their destructiveness.

About Company

Bacal & Associates was founded in 1992. Since then Robert has trained thousands of employees to deal with angry, hostile, abusive and potentially violent customers. He has authored over 20 books on various subjects, many published by McGraw-Hill.


Robert Bacal

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