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Working with Difficult People: Part 5

15 Feb

What’s the definition of a “difficult” person? This installment is a reminder that it’s all relative—“difficult” is defined by our attitude and perspective on the person, and what reactions we chose to have in a given situation. One person’s “difficult” co-worker is another person’s genius.

From time to time, a company will bring in an industry outsider who’s an expert in transforming organizations, spurring them on from the status quo to the better “what’s next.” Of course, change IS good, but NOT when it’s just for the sake of change.

Mindful, careful change of strategies and processes rejuvenates and energizes our work. This is welcome when people need motivation and a different perspective. But when the real motivator for change is getting rid of people who don’t think like upper management, beware the Change Agent. This type is a difficult person.

Just like stepmothers, Change Agents have no blood ties to the family/organization. This puts them in a position where decisions can be made that do not honor the family’s/organization’s historical ethic—and thereby cut out the heart of its being, at the worst. Of course, not all Change Agents are like wicked stepmothers—just as all stepmothers are certainly not evil. But being awake and aware during change processes will benefit you in the long run. You can learn and thrive through the shifting landscape.


Some hints for coping with the Change Agent:

  1. Openly engage in conversation (meetings, etc.) organized by the Change Agent. Be an active participant. Don’t blow off the Change Agent, because often s/he will have helpful angles to share. The Change Agent may seem like a difficult person at times because they push you outside your comfort zone, but that’s not all bad. Be open.
  2. Learn new ideas to help you grow professionally from the experience. Observe how those around you react to the experience of change. Observe your own reactions, but try to stay detached from your feelings about the process, so that your own reactions are measured—positive or negative.
  3. Carefully choose your words when responding to questions about what you think works and doesn’t work. Focus more on processes and products than people. Be aware that the Change Agent could take any of your comments out of context, innocently or not, and translate any perceived criticism into one of two things: 1) This person complains a lot and is an impediment to change; or, 2) This person has identified someone else in the organization that could be eliminated because they are holding us back.
  4. Keep your professional networks open and growing. This applies inside and outside the organization. Outside perspective will help you to roll with the changes. Inside perspective will help you to commiserate with trusted peers and advisers if the change is challenging for you.
  5. Exercise your judgment—and trust it. There are elements of change that will stick, and others that won’t. Some of what the Change Agent puts in place might remain—hopefully to benefit the company’s efforts. But much of what purported agents of change bring to the table can be shortsighted and neglectful of core strategic priorities. Speak up if any of the changes suggested by the change agent would damage your core business or valued customer base, and put your concerns in that context.
  6. Be thoughtful in your response to change. Don’t be afraid to question what doesn’t fit the culture and values of your organization, and welcome the aspects of change that will truly improve the company. Remember that Change Agents are inherently proselytizers—their job is to bring everyone along and marginalize those who don’t agree. Keep the change process in perspective, and don’t take it personally if you are criticized during the proceedings.

Here’s an essential reminder if you encounter a Change Agent who’s a difficult person:

Like the wind, change blows in, and it blows away.

So don’t become overly attached to the Change Agent. Likewise, don’t be too disappointed if you don’t agree with where the Change Agent is leading the organization, because it’s likely that they won’t be there for the long haul.