People behave the way they do for two main reasons – they don’t know any other way of behaving or they believe that that behaviour gets the outcomes they want. Managers are likely to come across at least one employee whose behaviour they don’t like, with whom they don’t see eye to eye, or whom they dislike for some other reason. The challenge resides with managers. Are they flexible enough to bring about desired changes in the employee and the relationship? Here are a few considerations…

1. Try to be tolerant.

The fact that you don’t like certain employees should not be allowed to affect the way you relate to them. You have to be tolerant and positive in your attitude toward such people. Try to adopt a relaxed, confident, easygoing style to demonstrate that you are not put off by people who can be hard to get on with.

2. Practise liking people.

Will Rogers adopted the famous line ‘I never met a man I didn’t like’ as his way of getting on with people. Other successful ways include these:

  • Create opportunities to recognise an individual’s achievements.
  • Remember people’s names.
  • Treat all people with respect.
  • Concentrate only on the work context.
  • Focus on the person’s good points; don’t be too critical. Remember Richard Burton’s description of Elizabeth Taylor: ‘Her arms are too fat, her legs are too short, she is too big in the bust, she has an incipient double chin, and she has a slight pot belly’. He still married her – twice.

3. Be flexible about how you respond to the behaviour of others.

If you learn to be flexible in the way you react to difficult people, you’ll learn to live with their unpleasantness. The secret is to choose an appropriate response to particular behaviours. For example:

  • If the person always reacts aggressively, give responsibility and encourage ownership.
  • If the person carries a personal grudge, avoid discussions about pet peeves.
  • If the person never admits being in the wrong, avoid direct criticism, sarcasm, and ridicule. Deal with the problem in private.
  • If the person is argumentative, stay calm and cite hard facts and figures to present an alternative position.
  • If the person is overtalkative, have someone ‘interrupt’ you at a prescribed time, or plead another appointment, or start to move away.
  • Practise tact – the ability to rub out another’s faults instead of rubbing them in.
  • For additional examples and advice, consult ‘How to deal with difficult people’ (Topic 122).

4. Keep your work relationship formal but friendly.

Being formal does not mean avoiding the employee altogether. It means that you confine your interest in that person to work-related matters. In fact, by dealing with the employee in this way, interactions will be kept to a minimum and will not interfere with work outcomes. Let the employee make the first move to discuss any matters not specifically related to the job.

5. Never let a relationship cloud your managerial responsibilities.

Do not let testy relationships with difficult people inhibit your managerial style. Indeed, you should try extra hard to involve such people by delegating appropriate tasks and inviting them to participate in committees, working parties, and other essential activities. Managers who set out to be liked by everyone all the time are heading for problems – just as those who do not attempt to patch up differences will inherit a similar batch of managerial headaches.

6. Talk to the employee.

Life is too short to get trapped into playing games such as ‘I don’t like you’ or ‘I’m not talking to you’. If there’s a problem with an employee, discuss it maturely and non-threateningly. You will have taken the first step to a possible resolution of any conflict.

7. Make changes.

As a result of talking over the matter with the employee, you may be able to recommend some changes. If you are in the wrong in any way, admit it and resolve to do something about it. If the employee is in the wrong, reach agreement about particular changes to be made. Let the person see that you are eager to operate in a friendlier way than in the past.

8. Develop coping skills.

Your desire to get on with all behavioural types will require that you improve some existing skills and take on new ones. By your actions you will demonstrate your intention to get on with all people – even those you don’t like.

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