Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.
Why are physician leaders hesitant to do this?
Everyone avoids dealing with difficult people. Physician leaders are no different. These emotional vampires suck the joy out of our lives. They are everywhere—at home, at church and at work. Heartier than cockroaches, they thrive in every human environment. The easiest thing is to avoid the bullies. Physician leaders can’t do that.
What is the case for doing it anyway?
Difficult people foul the air that we all breathe. While they cannot be entirely eliminated, they can be quarantined and contained. You cannot contain a hazardous spill by avoiding it. You must isolate it and dispose of it properly. You must store corrosive materials securely after the spill. And effective leaders take exactly the same approach with difficult people.
How can you do it?
1. Label them. You have been told this is a bad thing to do. Labeling others can be wrong, but not when dealing with difficult people. It is the first step to managing them successfully.
2. Confront them. Make it clear that they are difficult. Show them the accumulated evidence from their colleagues’ written complaints. Most of them will never get it. They will maintain they are right and everyone else is wrong. While their gaining valuable insight is out of the question, you can’t move to the next step until you confront them.
3. Extrude them. When you’ve made a reasonable effort to contain the damage that difficult people are causing, send them to your competitor. Your competitor will initially rejoice that he has lured away one of your most valuable assets. By the time your competitor realizes you have sent in a Trojan horse, it will be too late.
How do you deal effectively with difficult people?