Cleanup on Aisle Seven

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A verse in the Old Testament book of Proverbs says this:

“Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean, but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.” – Proverbs 14:4 (ESV)

In other words, if you want to produce results, there is going to be a mess. This is a great corollary to McCarthy’s law, which states:

“Things left unattended long enough will always hit the fan.”

For leaders, this is a daily reality.

On one hand, we know we need equipment, systems and people to get things done. On the other hand, all these assets need constant care and maintenance in order to keep producing at optimal levels.

I can’t help you with your equipment, but I do have a few tips that might help you deal with the human side of this equation.

Difficult people.

Difficult people are a fact of life. Especially if your organization utilizes volunteers in addition to paid staff.

Difficult people are challenging, but it’s essential to integrate them into your team and achieve results through them.

Let’s dive in…

Stay Calm – Difficult people push our buttons. When this happens, reign in your emotions and remain calm. This increases your objectivity and decreases the risk of unnecessary escalation.

Be Professional – Your behavior is independent of their behavior. You alone control your behavior. If they behave badly, don’t reciprocate. Avoid personal attacks or name calling. Stick to the facts and focus on the issue(s) at hand.

Be Solution Oriented – Don’t allow the discussion to devolve into assigning blame or re-hashing past mistakes or problems. Concentrate on solutions. Redirect the conversation toward resolution and forward progress.

Listen Carefully – Give the person your full attention when they speak. Ask clarifying questions and restate their answers to demonstrate understanding. This usually helps expose the root cause of an issue as early as possible in the conversation.

I usually allow a person one chance to “vent.” Strong emotion clouds receptivity and objectivity, so I let them get it all out. I continually ask, “is there anything else?” After they get it all “on the table,” we can usually move on.

Seek Understanding – Try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes to gain insight into their background, motivations, concerns, or frustrations. Empathy helps diffuse tension.

True understanding builds stronger relationships and more effective teamwork. Sometimes great friends come out of great disagreement or adversity if the situation is handled well.

Choose Your Battles – Not every disagreement or issue needs to be addressed immediately. Or even addressed at all. Usually it’s best to reflect a moment and evaluate the importance and impact of the situation before engaging.

Personal Boundaries – Under no circumstances should you let people abuse you. Years ago I worked with someone who would scream at the top of his lungs when he was upset.

Literally – his face would turn bright red and the veins on his neck and forehead would stick out. I was legitimately concerned for his health.

When this happened, I told him that I’d be happy to chat when he calmed down. Then I’d either hang up on him or walk away. After a while, he got the idea.

Control – A lot of anger, frustration, fear and anxiety come from people feeling out of control. The most obnoxious behavior is often the biggest cry for help. Providing a safe space for communicating often helps reduce these symptoms and helps the person see more clearly, which then catalyzes solutions.

If embraced, difficult people help strengthen our leadership.

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