Difficult People: Observe Your Reactions

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

It happens thousands of times each day. We think. We feel. We react. We do these things robotically without consciously realizing what we’ve just done. Observing our own reactions demands considerable effort and sustained attention. Such self-awareness and monitoring doesn’t come naturally to most of us. This process of observing our reactions also holds us accountable for them. It is much easier to blame others for the ways we think, feel and behave. “You made me mad and that’s why I said that.”

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Here’s the deal. You can’t hold difficult people accountable for their reactions to stressful situations unless you are willing to hold yourself accountable for yours first. You won’t accept accountability for your reactions to others until you recognize what you did and acknowledge that you did it. No one made you react that way. You chose to react that way based on what you believed and how you felt. Your willingness to observe your own reactions, to take full responsibility for them and to analyze the beliefs and feelings that triggered them is one of the key foundations for successful leadership.

How can you do it?

  1. What happened? When a difficult person crosses your path and unpleasantness ensues, make a brief note of your interaction. Stick to observed behaviors during this part of your analysis.
  2. How did you feel? If you wait too long to reflect on this, you will forget exactly how you felt. You may have felt several different things. Jot down the feelings that you recall.
  3. What did you believe? We feel certain ways because we believe certain things. Here’s an example. I may believe that civilized people should not throw trash out of their cars. Because I believe that, when I observe people littering, I feel annoyed.
  4. What did I do? Here’s where you get to describe your own behavioral response to your feelings and beliefs. Your reactions when you are aroused are instinctual and they follow predictable patterns. Now you are gaining insight into your own personality.
  5. What might I have done? This bonus question is the real payoff. Here you are free to reflect on what behavior might have worked better in that situation. By now, you have realized that this simple self-analysis is exactly what difficult people fail to do in their routine interactions with others.

How have you successfully observed your own behavior and modified it as a result?

Difficult People: Identify Your Feelings

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

We all have feelings. They just appear. We tend to take them for granted and view them as legitimate even when they are not. Worse still, we usually act on them unquestioningly. This tendency to react to our feelings immediately and uncritically is why feelings are so disruptive in human affairs. Most of us don’t even recognize our feelings until we’ve reacted in a way we’ve come to regret.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Effective leaders know how important their feelings are. They monitor them continuously and they refuse to be held hostage by them. They fully understand they cannot manage others’ feelings until they manage their own. And they realize that the difficult people they work with cause mischief mostly by arousing others in the workplace.

How can you do it?

  1. Accept the importance of monitoring your own feelings. If you are not convinced by the case I’ve made, consult the most successful leaders in your organization. They will urge you to practice your emotional intelligence skills.
  2. Adopt a mental process for monitoring your feelings continuously. Check your own emotional vital signs periodically during the day. A little simple self talk will work wonders. “I’m currently feeling (feeling).” “I’m feeling that way because I’m thinking (current thoughts).” “Because of what I’m thinking and feeling, I’m inclined to (behave in this way).” If you practice this simple mental discipline regularly, your workplace will be a lot less chaotic and emotionally draining.
  3. Pay particular attention to your own emotional arousal. Some of us are more easily aroused than others, but it happens to us all. Recognize it immediately. Your arousal is not the biggest challenge. What you do with it is. But you can’t manage it if you don’t recognize it.
  4. Identify, express and accept your feelings. As a leader, you will want to do this offstage. Go to a trusted colleague’s office and talk it out briefly. Until you can do this, keep your mouth shut.

How do you routinely identify your feelings?

Difficult People: Face Reality

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

Why are leaders hesitant to do this?

No one wants to deal with difficult people. Because of this natural aversion, most leaders hope they can just ignore the problem and it will eventually go away. When that fails, they decide to get rid of all of the difficult people and never hire any more of them. These expectations are unrealistic. Leaders will always have to deal with difficult people. The sooner we recognize that and manage them effectively the better off everyone will be.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

When you face the painful reality that dealing with difficult people is inescapable and an everyday challenge, you will be less inclined to avoid the problem. You will see that your procrastination is undermining everything else you are trying to accomplish. It’s not that avoidance is never appropriate with these folk. It is sometimes the best approach in the short term. But you must not choose that option just because it is easiest.

How can you do it?

  1. Identify the difficult people in your life. A good number of them will come to mind right away. When you consider how many there are and where they are, you will realize that you cannot expunge them from your life entirely. You will see that you only have two choices: you will manage them or they will manage you.
  2. Talk to your fellow leaders. They will reinforce the reality that these challenging folk cannot be avoided.
  3. Reflect on your own experience. You worked with difficult people before you became a leader. What impact did they have on the work environment? How did you and others feel about the manager who repeatedly failed to identify those problems and deal with them? What impact did the manager who held these folk accountable have?

How have you faced up to the reality that you will always have to deal with difficult people?

Managing Difficult People: The Leadership Challenge

Kendall L. Stewart, MD, MBA, DLFAPA

They are everywhere. They contaminate schools, families and places of worship. They poison the work environment of every company. These are the difficult people. They whine and complain. They criticize. They get their feelings hurt. They are thin-skinned. They gossip and stir the pot. They care deeply about everything—except the things that matter. And they don’t realize they are difficult. They think their feelings are justified and they believe their opinions are valuable; they feel duty bound to share their critical perspectives with others.

Difficult people are the bane of your existence as a leader. Their coworkers dread being around them, and you will dread having to confront them. Try as you might, you will not be able to eliminate negative people from the workplace; you can minimize their numbers, but you cannot entirely eliminate them. There are just too many difficult people in the world. They are some of the hardest working people you will ever find. They often have skills you cannot do without. Even though they are negative, you will often conclude that they are net-positive for your organization.

But you are not helpless. There are things you can do to manage difficult people better. You can minimize their pernicious influence and contain their emotional bile. The blog entries that follow will lay out some of those strategies. First, I will explain why leaders are hesitant to employ these approaches. Second, I will explain why you should do these things anyway. Third, I will tell you exactly how to do it. Finally, I will invite you to share your own practical experiences in dealing with the difficult people in your work environment. We have all learned some tricks for managing difficult people over the years. Please share your questions and insights with your fellow leaders who are facing the same challenges.

Creating and Sustaining a Service Culture: It’s All About The People

What are the leadership barriers to doing this?

We focus on quality measures. We talk about outcomes. We are hardwired to think about the tasks we have to accomplish. How can we make a statement like “It’s All About The People” and take ourselves seriously? Are we using double speak or talking out of both sides of our mouth? Obviously, we are performing these tasks for people, but what ultimately matters is that we got it done, right? I hope that over the past few months I have been able to persuade you that this line of thinking is not enough to achieve lasting success in our current service climate.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

What do I mean when I say it is all about people? I mean that in an ever-changing and ultra-competitive market place, the customer experience is our ultimate measure of success. Of course, we must produce quality results, but frankly, that’s a given. Our customers expect that! They demand it. They also expect a great experience. Even if there isn’t competition for our service, an unsatisfied customer can lead to a host of other issues. Our aim must be higher than just getting the job done. We must strive to provide an exceptional customer experience.

How can you do it?

Know the customer. We have to identify who we are working for and understand what they want.

Use AIDET. AIDET is a simple, but powerful tool. It outlines our interaction with the customer in a way that sets us up for consistent outcomes and a clear channel of communication.

Be honest with yourself. We must be willing to look at ourselves and our processes in a way that allows for honest critique. We have to accept that our processes can be improved and be committed to taking the necessary steps to doing so.

Creating and Sustaining a Service Culture: Not Just Lip Service

What are the leadership barriers to doing this?

It is easy to pay lip service to the idea of customer service. It often becomes a catch phrase; a buzz word. It might even be a regular topic that is addressed in department meetings or pre-shift huddles. However, if it doesn’t become a part of your departmental or organizational DNA, it wont make an appreciably positive impact to your customer’s experience.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

You see, service isn’t just an idea, a strategic value, or a mantra.  It is a culture. It has to become something that is hardwired as part of your service delivery. We have to think about service all of the time. It is literally the purpose for which we exist.. The expression “actions speak louder than words” is especially true when it comes to service. Customers will judge you by what you do, not what you say you’ll do.

How can you do it?

Inspect what you expect. If it’s worth doing, it is worth measuring. As leaders, we can’t just settle for trying to create service culture. We have to follow up, observe, and measure how our teams are doing.

Walk the talk. Leaders….lead. We must be the first to serve. We must be the best at service. We are modeling this for our team and organization.

Listen to your customers. If you really want to know how good your service culture is, ask the people you serve. Sometimes you will have to seek their feedback out, but many times, there are built in feedback loops to help collect this information.

Creating and Sustaining a Service Culture: Thank You

What are the leadership barriers to doing this?

The in AIDET stands for Thank You. We are in a hurry. We are going from one job to the next. Our work is done. All of these are likely common refrains about adding yet another (and final) step into this process that some may see as unnecessary. Even others may wonder why in the world we would thank anyone. Didn’t we just do the work?

What is the case for doing it anyway?

It is hard to say if any of the five steps in AIDET are more important than the other, but the final step may be the most important. Taking the time to double back and let the customer know that we have finished closes the loop on their request. Thanking them for the opportunity to serve them puts an exclamation point on it! It shows that we are grateful that they trusted us and chose us. It communicates that we are ultimately most interested in them being satisfied with their experience. It sets the stage for them to rely on us again in the future.

How can you do it?

Make an effort. It doesn’t take much work to follow up with someone. Make the effort to close the loop.

Human contact. There are systems that can communicate the work is done. A personal message is more genuine and goes further in letting the customer know you care about their experience.

Cultivate a concern for the customer. We must rewire our minds. Our tasks aren’t just tasks. They are opportunities to serve someone. Once we have cultivated this desire to serve, we can better implement the AIDET strategy.

Creating and Sustaining a Service Culture: Explanation

What are the leadership barriers to doing this?

The E in AIDET stands for Explanation. We develop processes and routines to make sure that we are setting our teams up for success. Our goal is to consistently produce a desired outcome. This means that many things may seem like old hat to us. We don’t always think about each individual step and what role it plays in producing the outcome.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

However, our customer is thinking about each individual step. They are navigating the unfamiliar territory of a process that is likely unfamiliar to them. Even though we have told them how long it may take, we still have to engage them by telling them exactly what we are doing. Sharing this detailed information will almost always reassure them that they are in good hands. It also serves as a check and balance in case their perceived need and our plan are not in alignment. The customer has a chance to hear our plan, evaluate it, and critique it if necessary.

How can you do it?

Be transparent. Customers want to know what is going to happen. Help them see what your plan is.

Be thorough. Don’t skip steps that seem obvious to you. This assumes a level of understanding that the customer may not possess.

Be clear. Don’t use jargon or technical language. Make sure what you have to say is in layman’s terms and can be easily understood.

Creating and Sustaining a Service Culture: Duration

What are the leadership barriers to doing this?

The D in AIDET stands for Duration. We might not always know how long something will take. Furthermore, we almost certainly have to go out of our way to provide communication about how things are progressing. This could be perceived as yet another step that gets in the way of “getting the work done” in the face of an ever-growing list of things to do.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

Maintaining regular communication with the customer allows the customer to remain engaged as the work progresses. While we may prefer to not waste time and get right to work, this method does not engage the customer. Furthermore, absent some interaction and stated expectation, the customer is likely to think nothing was ever done if the service performed is not readily apparent. For example, if a service technician addresses a temperature concern by making a repair in an unseen mechanical room, the customer may never realize their request has been addressed. Such an experience would almost certainly lead to dissatisfaction. Providing status updates about progress also allows you to manage expectations as the job unfolds and address any unforeseen obstacles that could have a negative impact on the initial plan or schedule.

How can you do it?

Keep in touch. Don’t check in and check out at the same time with the customer. Maintain regular contact so that they know what is going on.

Communicate delays. Delays and interruptions are inevitable. A key to great customer service is communicating these obstacles and providing both an explanation and an updated duration.

Own your actions. Some delays and interruptions are out of our control. Others are our fault. Try as we might, we will still make mistakes. We must own those mistakes with our customers. Accepting this responsibility communicates to the customer that we are engaged on their behalf and that we can be trusted.

Creating and Sustaining a Service Culture: Introduce

What are the leadership barriers to doing this?

The I in AIDET stands for Introduce. We want to focus on the task at hand and not the broader experience of our customer. We don’t want to make ourselves a part of the focus of the engagement with the customer, but that is exactly what they want.

What is the case for doing it anyway?

The customer wants to know that we are committed to them and what they need. The best way to do this is to establish a relational common ground with the customer. We can accomplish this by introducing ourselves to others politely and telling them who we are and how we are going to help them.

How can you do it?

Be friendly. No one wants to deal with someone who is unpleasant. It doesn’t take much to be kind and courteous when engaging with stakeholders. Do it.

Be intentional. An introduction is about allowing the stakeholder to put a face and name with their service provider. It gives us a personal identity. It is an intentional act we do to better serve our customers.

Be consistent. Many of these habits seem out of step with the most basic task assignments. It would be easy to revert back to a more impersonal methodology, but we must lead by example and be consistent in our practice of making the service engagement one that is both personal and an experience enhancer for our stakeholders.