The difficult Boss or Colleague When I was invited to speak about handling a difficult boss or colleague, I quickly accepted the offer. But let me admit to you at the very start, that I am neither a registered psychologist nor a professional dealing in human behaviour. So I am not going to spend this hour filling you with lots of academic theory or any psycho babble. Instead, I like to believe that I am some what of a human behaviour specialist. This is a qualification, forgive the cliché’, that was awarded to me from the University of Life. So my presentation will be a practical one, drawing on personal lessons learnt. I will then link these life lessons to some theory related to behaviour. Thereafter I will again bring the theory back to reality and will end my talk by leaving you with a simple 5 step process in how to handle the difficult people in your life. I have a brother. He’s 4 years younger then me. Today, he is 6ft 4 (just under 2 metres tall). So as we were growing up he was always bigger and stronger then me. As is the wont with brothers, we had numerous disagreements and fights over all sorts of petty nonsense. One day I enraged him with something I had said or done (which for the life of me I cannot remember). He was so angry that he took a carving knife and I am sure if he had got hold of me, he would have done some serious damage. I ran for my life, knowing that my life was on the line and I charged to the bedroom with the intention of locking myself in until he had calmed down. Just as I was about to close the door and lock it, he arrived on the other side. So it was me using my strength to close the door in an attempt to lock it and my brother using his strength to push it open. I was wise enough to know that the stronger one will win this little battle and I knew that if he got hold of me while in this frame of mind, I might very well have not been here today. So I simply withdrew my pressure against the door with the result, the door flew open and my brother came tumbling in with all the force he was using to push it open. The impact flung him to the ground, the knife went flying and I was able to step over him and nimbly make my escape. This took the wind out of his sails and he abandoned his mission, and instead of pursuing me, he simply lay there and verbally abused me and that was the end of that. One very important lesson was learnt from this experience. It has stood me in good stead throughout my life, and it is this; you cannot fight conflict with conflict, because it will always be the strongest one, or the one who shouts the loudest or the more senior one who will win. This type of win/lose conflict is what I term, destructive or negative conflict. Constructive or positive conflict, on the other hand, is healthy because it is possible to create a “win/win” solution to any problem. This is the essence of what I intend sharing with you a little later. But first let me explain. You see, any issue, any problem comes with its own set of emotions. In this instance, the problem my brother had was the manner in which I had upset him. His emotional response was unadulterated anger. Anger, frustration, jealously, grief, anything are typically the emotions attached to various issues people have with each other. (Slide 1) Too often when we engage in conflict it is on the emotional level. Shouting and screaming and getting hurt by comments made in the heat of the moment, sulking or simply withdrawing and never ever really addressing the issue. This is what I call “negative conflict”. Positive conflict however, is when you understand this idea that every problem has some form of emotion surrounding it, and the secret is to unlock it, to get the emotion out of the way. In the example I have just shared with you, my releasing the door, effectively dissipated the emotion. You have to burst the emotional balloon or the emotional bubble associated with the problem or issue. Once the emotion is out of the way, you are then able to focus on the real issue and address it in a rational and adult manner and jointly resolve it in a win/win fashion. More of this will be touched on a bit later. Another very important life lesson I learnt was this. I grew up in a working class environment. And in this rough neighborhood I was a prime target for all the local bullies. You see, I was small and skinny for my age. To add insult to injury my face was covered with unsightly pimples. Today, it is known as being a nerd. So needless to say I was a bully’s dream. One incident that has always remained with me is this. Our home was down a steep hill from the high school I attended. And walking down this hill homeward bound I invariably saw them waiting for me. From past experience I knew it was pointless trying turn and run in the opposite direction. They were bigger and stronger as well as faster then me, and they would simply catch me and should this happen my torture would be severe. So I would stoically approach them because I had learnt that a bully has a finite attention span and if you gave them nothing they would soon get bored and move on. So there they were and I would approach them saying nothing. I would neither attempt to bargain with them, or ask for their mercy or anything at all. They would grab me, remove my school blazer, which my mother had sweated blood and tears to purchased, and fling it into the highest branch of a convenient tree. Next they would remove my school tie and tie me to the tree, and then they would empty my school bag into the garden of a nearby house, usually with a dog in residence, thereafter they would slap me around while the entire time I was insulted and verbally abused. This ritual remained unchanged. Throughout the ordeal I remained emotionless. This lack of reaction would eventually bore them and they would subsequently move on to more exciting activities. Once alone, I would then free myself, retrieve my blazer, make friends with the dog in order to I enter his domain to retrieve my school belongings. Once all my stuff had been collected, I would continue on my way home. I was but a child and this hurt, it was painful. And many a day, part of my afternoon would be spent locked in my bedroom smarting over what had just happened to me. But this incident and many others like this one certainly did not turn me into a “basket case”. On the contrary as I have already said, it taught me yet another valuable life lesson. And that is, to become self reliant. To look inwards for motivation, and despite the circumstances; never to betray yourself with self doubt. To have an unwavering believe in your self and your own abilities. At this stage, you might be wondering. So this is all well and good but what does this have to do with dealing with a difficult colleague or boss. Well I suggest to you that it has everything to do with this subject. You see these two incidents and many others like them taught me a very valuable lesson that I am sure I would not have found in a text book. And that is to “read people” and to become “street wise”. My ability to read people never stopped developing as I got older. In fact I developed it into a honed skill. I could look at people and read their body language, and even understand their emotions from voice tone. But what these experiences also taught me was to understand and control my own emotional reactions and feelings. It was only much later in life that I learnt that all of this, namely, understanding other people’s emotions, as well as your own, had a name. It is known as “Emotional Intelligence” (EQ). So what do the experts say about it? (Slide 2) Carl Eichstadt, an Industrial Psychologist, defines emotional intelligence, thus,” it is the capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions in ourselves and in our relationships” Daniel Goleman in his book, “Emotional intelligence” puts forward a powerful debate about why EQ can and should matter more than IQ. He goes on to elaborate on the definition by offering an EQ model based on 5 fundamental points; namely, (Slide 3) 1. Knowing your own emotions Being self aware, recognizing a feeling as it happens Self understanding. Because a person with an inability to notice their true feelings leaves themselves at the mercy of others. 2. Managing your own emotions Handling feelings so they are appropriate to the circumstance is an ability that builds on your own self awareness It is interesting to note that people, who are poor in this ability, generally have a low self esteem. There is also a positive correlation between having a poor self esteem and a low a EQ, and typically these are the people who are constantly battling feelings of distress and despair, while those who are good at it, quickly bounce back from life’s set backs and upsets. 3. Motivating yourself Is all about emotional self control – delaying gratification and stifling impulsiveness. This typically is resisting the urge to open your mouth to change your feet, or preventing you from saying things you may later regret. This of course is easier said then done, but believe me with some effort and hard work it can be done. 4. Recognizing emotions in others Empathy is the fundamental “people skill” People who are empathic are more attuned to the subtle social signals that indicate what others need or want. Reading people! 5. Handling relationships This is all about managing emotions in others This particular skill is all about the abilities that underlie popularity, leadership and interpersonal effectiveness. So in short my take on all of this is – emotional intelligence is about “taking charge” of yourself. Not allowing the circumstance, the issue or other people’s moods to control you. But instead, it is about you managing the circumstance, you managing the issue or about you managing the manner you choose to respond to other people’s moods. It is about self empowerment, it is about a healthy self esteem, it is about not being afraid to challenge issues. But I must caution, it is also about the how you do them. Remember my slide about the issue or problem always being engulfed by emotion, well, if you choose to deal with the issue aggressively and also emotionally, you certainly will not be resolving the issue with a well rounded EQ. Instead, you will be resorting to the negative or destructive conflict approach to problem solving! And certainly not using this model of emotional intelligence. At this stage, let me marry the theory with the reality and at the same time share with you how, after all these years of watching human behaviour, how I too very nearly fell into the trap of dealing with an issue using destructive conflict. Those of you, who were at my talk on Sunday evening, would know that I have no real legs. That I am what is known as a bi lateral amputee. For those of you who were not there, let me explain. Eight years ago I was in the bar at the Planet Hollywood Restaurant with some colleagues of mine when a bomb exploded. My two colleagues and I just happened to be standing exactly on top of the bomb, at the very epicenter as it were. All three of us had our feet blown of our legs. I fortunately was the only one of the three that survived. (Slide 3) Today, I spend time with people who for what ever reason have lost limbs and who are struggling to come to terms with living life as amputees. Just recently a lady phoned me and asked whether I would see a man who as a result of complications with his illness, had to have both his legs amputated. She told me, he was battling with this new reality and just could not come to terms with it. I agreed to see him. She set up a date and a time. My appointment was for exactly two pm. As it happened I had an earlier appointment in the same area. This appointment finished earlier then anticipated and so with much time on my hands, and not wanting to waste it while waiting around for the two o clock one, I decided to risk arriving at the venue much too early. It was a retirement village and he was in the frail care section. I arrived and made my way to the frail care section. It was depressing to say the least. The walls were painted a sickly green colour and the section where he stayed was dull, gloomy and seemed not to have windows. The sister on duty said of course I can see him before my appointed time and in fact she would take me to his bed. He was in a section that housed him and three others. When we got to the bed, he was lying above the sheets wearing an adult type nappy and his legs had been amputated just below his groin. He looked up as we approached and I introduced myself to him. I am not sure how I expected him to react, but the reaction I got took the wind out of my sails. He was rude and aggressive. He told me I was much too early and that it was not a convenient time to visit. In fact he angrily said to me he was expecting the physiotherapist any moment. Just then she arrived and I introduced myself to her. Immediately she offered to come back later, because she could see other people in the mean time. He was going to have none of this. He insisted on her keeping her appointment with him and dismissed me with a, “come back at two o clock”. At this stage I was quite put out, I remember thinking, who is doing who a favour here. The physio had said she would only be 15 minutes with him and so I decided to wait. She eventually left and I waited a further 15 minutes. By now it was much closer to my two o clock appointment but still very early for the appointment. Never the less at I returned to his room. This time he was dressed and sitting in his wheel chair. I walked in smiling and joking about the fact that I was still early, but since I was here, could we not have a chat. Again I was met with cold rude aggression and this time I felt the hair on my neck rising. I remember thinking what a pompous, arrogant person. When he again said I should return at two. I knew the meeting would be a disaster. Especially given my frame of mind. I suggested that instead of that day, could we make it another day and I will ensure that I am dead on time. Again his response got my negative emotions going. He said, he cannot simply change times. Every day is different, and therefore should I wish to visit him, I must phone him in order to do so. It took me all my effort to prevent myself from retorting emotionally. Biting my lip, and as calmly as I could, I took his number and said I would contact him in due course for a new time, and left. After giving me his number, he dismissed me by turning his back on me and that was the end of the discussion. I walked out of there fuming, and driving home, I remember thinking, there is no way I will waste my time in seeing him. I will let the lady who asked me to see him know, what a rude person he is. On the drive home I was able to dissipate my emotions, to burst my own emotional bubble and slowly began to rationally focus on the problem. And the problem with hindsight is obvious, this poor man has lost his legs, he is facing an uncertain future, he is in a depressing place and all of these manifests in his anger, his frustration and his total despair. Once I was able to think in this manner my empathy returned, and indeed I shall phone him to set a new meeting. And this time I will be punctual. Relating this experience to Goleman’s 5 step model of EQ, suggests that to a greater or lesser degree I applied this model effectively. On first meeting him and experiencing his aggressive attack, my pride was insulted, I was hurt, here I am doing him a favour, and how dare he speak to me like this. So I was in touch with my emotions, I certainly was able to manage them. Admittedly at times I came very close to losing them, but I managed to contain myself, and I motivated myself to remain calm and to take his contact details. It was only later and alone that I exploded. After my private explosion, I began to calm down. Once calm, I was able to reflect rationally on what had just happened I was able to understand and recognize his emotional state. And the next time I see him, he will know that his behaviour was unacceptable and I will allow him the opportunity to vent his emotions in an empathic manner. And I will remain rational and calm, taking charge of the meeting and thus handling the relationship constructively. These are skills that are not formally taught to us as we journey through life. Very often we learn them in the way I did. By trial and error. And very often we never learn them. As a result the difficult colleague or boss, the bully, the aggressive jerk, the hurtful gossip, the thick skinned assistant, has the ability to turn us into nervous, self doubting, jibbering idiots. Before I share with you my 5 step process which builds on Goleman’s model and which can be used effectively when dealing with difficult people, let me tell you about a gem of a book that I discovered some time ago. It is called, naturally “EQ, emotional intelligence for everyone”. It is written by Stephanie Vermeulen. The write up on the back cover says she is “South Africa’s guru on emotional intelligence” and that she “runs public and corporate seminars on Applied EQ and in the process has positively changed thousands of people’s lives”. After having read the book I can only endorse this. Why I say the book is a gem is because, first and foremost it is an easy read. She talks about things in simple layman’s language. The book is also full of exercises, quizzes and worksheets that will assist the reader to grow and develop their own emotional intelligence. An absolute must have! Now remember, IQ, which is the measure of cognitive ability is a given, and we have to make the most of what we have in this domain. But EQ is an acquired skill. It can be learnt and the first step in the learning process is acknowledging that you have a low EQ or more gently put that your EQ needs some development. The second step in the process is to keep practicing the skill. When our backs are against the wall and when some one is having a go at us, we resort to either fighting or fleeing. In order to start using the EQ model effectively, we have to consciously resist either. Therefore, when confronted by a difficult boss, colleague or anybody else, take a deep breath, remain calm and trust the 5 step process I am about to share with you. When you feel however, you are unable continue because your emotions are getting the better of you, end the discussion and take it up again when you are calmer and more rational. The golden rule is; never interact with the difficult person when you are in a state of emotional agitation as a result of that person. Here is my 5 step process (Slide4) Every problem has a balloon of emotion surrounding it. Burst the emotional balloon. o This you do by “hitting the ball” continuously back to them. You say things like, “Why do you say that”, “I can see that you are angry, tell me about it” and so on. The idea here is to let the person talk until they begin to address you in a rational unemotional manner. In the process of bursting the balloon be prepared to hear hurtful and unpleasant things that might make you defensive or angry. Control you emotional reactions. Focus on the problem or the issue o Say things like “so this is about -----“or “So you are angry or upset because” Clarify the problem and get the other person’s commitment that the problem is indeed the one that caused the outburst. A warning however, is that in dealing with this second step you might have to revert to step one because the other person could become emotional at this stage. Jointly plan a solution o The way forward must be a win/win one that is practical and workable. Again at this stage be prepared to revert to step one in need. To dump. Go and find a close and trustworthy confidant and dump your pent up emotions o Without divulging details and giving away confidential information just get rid of your emotions whatever they are. But it has to be with someone you feel safe with. This step especially in the workplace is often overlooked. Too often we think we must be strong; we cannot let others at work see our vulnerability and so on. This is nonsense, we are all human beings with emotions, and we must experience them, but appropriately, of course. Move on, once you have dealt with the issue o Carrying emotional baggage is exhausting. So once you have completed step 4 dump it and move on. If however, you ignore step 4, because you are strong, it simply suggests that you have locked the issue away in the deepest filing cabinet of your mind, and believe me by doing this, these issues have a way of getting themselves out of that cabinet and coming back to haunt you. And so the next time there is an altercation with the same person, your unchecked emotions turn a mole hill into a mountain. Deal and dump and move on, is my motto. This 5 step process might not come naturally to you, but when some one asked Gary Player about the success of his golfing career, he replied, “The harder I work the luckier I get”. And the same applies here. Practice, practice, practice this skill and the easier it will become to use it and the luckier you will get in any environment, let alone the working one. So in conclusion, armed with Goleman’s 5 point EQ model, Stefanie Vermeulen’s book and my 5 step process there should be nothing stopping you from confidentially taking on the difficult boss, the mean colleague or the workplace bully. By changing your approach to these people allows you to take charge of the situation and to effectively engage in some constructive behaviour modification? Ideally it would be useful to conclude this session by practicing this skill with some role play exercises. But relax; it will not happen this afternoon. My advice however is to take this information back into the workplace and get two colleagues to join you. In a role play practice the EQ skill as follows. One person plays the role of the difficult person, the other plays the role of the person using the 5 step process, while the third observes to see how well person number two does in using the skill. Naturally at the end of the role it is the task of person number three to give some constructive feedback. Remember practice makes perfect.