How labeling, expectations and attitudes can contribute to your negative subconscious actions when dealing with difficult staff
Whether in a large or small practice, we’ve all encountered difficult people, or possibly patients. We may even have wanted to make them disappear (without having to go to jail). But what if you could? What if you could make them, or at least their difficult behavior, disappear? You can, and these six steps may make it feel a little bit like magic when dealing with difficult staff:
Be a better leader
A leader makes stress and difficulty disappear by making one decision: to minimize each.
Whether you lead a practice, co-lead a family, or are the supreme chief in charge of your own office and everyone in it, you have a responsibility to focus daily on how to help those you have the privilege of leading. This includes understanding and developing rapport with those creating conflict, or those who are the focus when employees start describing “difficult people.”
Recognize when it may have been you who made a bad hiring decision and be ready to make changes when development no longer seems plausible. The truth is most people are only difficult to the degree of our expectations and how that differs from what comes naturally to them — so there may also be room for you to improve your leadership by adjusting or changing your expectations.
Lessen the labeling
Being a better leader is not always easy. The far easier course of action is to engage in the rapid application of labels.
Labels take on a life of their own, and once you decide a label fits a person, your brain looks for all the ways to validate your decision. In other words, when you decide, your brain looks for ways to detect the behavior because we tend not to argue with our assessments that we believe to be accurate. Do you really want to see more difficulty or less? If the latter, fewer labels and more effective leadership of differences is best.
Increase rewards and consequences
True at work or at home, and a known truth about simple human behavior, rewards and consequences guide responses. Without rewards to steer staff in a specific direction and a consequence to help them steer clear of the opposite of your preference, employees will do whatever is easiest.
At home when someone tries to meet your needs and their “reward” is you reminding them it’s not good enough, they’ll run from the nagging faster than toward trying to meet the standard for which you asked. At the office, more work, which is usually what we dole out when they finish early, is not a reward for working quickly. Additionally, ignoring a problem, which many doctors do when the solution is unclear, is a reward for someone continuing to exhibit difficult behavior. Are you being purposeful about the behavior you’re encouraging?
Management books tout “Inspect what you expect,” but if upon inspection you find your expectations are out of whack or just plain inappropriate for that person, change is required or you’ll continue to face frustration when dealing with difficult staff.
Not only is it good leadership of your practice to align expectations with the team members you’ve hired, but, if you also expect one of them to be difficult, they’ll continue to confirm it. When it comes to difficult people and making their behavior seem to disappear in an instant, consider your expectations as a valuable part of the equation. How often do you look at your laid-back, emotionally empathetic son and expect him to suck it up, take charge and take initiative? How often do you look at your star performer, who could engage strangers at the grocery and expect her to also be the start of organizing your electronic records?
Take a look at what/who you lead (and love) and align your expectations accordingly. Also remember that a realignment is different from acquiescence. You wouldn’t tell a patient to live with a chronic pain; you’d realign their body and often, their thinking about the value of chiropractic.
Dealing with difficult staff: align attitudes and actions
The common truth about relationships, both with your team and your patients as well as your family members, is “It takes two to tango.” If difficulty exists between the two of you, you are part of the challenge.
If you’re the only one excited about a new goal for the office this quarter and you sense the team isn’t really interested, continuing to act as if they’re on board and being frustrated when they’re not is a recipe for creating difficulty that you’ll likely label lack of engagement. Figure out the root cause. Do some digging. You don’t treat a patient without data and an X-ray, so stop acting as if you have all the data on the team before you’ve asked key questions.
Is what they’re doing or feeling really all that bad, or are you just bummed that they’re not excited? Did you give them enough information on the outcome or a big enough reward upon this goal’s achievement? Have you led the team so that they want to join you on this journey or are you simply insisting they come along because you said so or because you’re the doctor?
Up your EQ
Learning more about how others behave and how you can communicate in a language they readily understand is a way to elevate your emotional intelligence (EQ). Accepting that how they do things or share things is different, but perhaps not inherently difficult, elevates your EQ even further.
When you become interested in learning about personalities and natural tendencies, you’ll become a leader who breaks the connection between difficult and different, and that is truly where the magic happens.
These are seemingly simple steps. Deceivingly easy to implement, but critical to dealing with difficult staff and your effective leadership. Putting each in place in your practice will make where you work much less frustrating. Leading with the use of these steps on a regular basis, both by you and those you have the privilege of leading, will not only eradicate most of your difficulty but will bring out a new level of teamwork, performance and camaraderie. Those three little words will translate to making patients very, very happy.
MONICA WOFFORD, CSP, is a leadership development expert, CEO of Contagious Companies Inc., and author of “Make Difficult People Disappear.” To learn more, email Monica@ContagiousCompanies.com, go to ContagiousCompanies.com, or call 866-832-0121.