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Communication is key to any business, and pretty much everything else in life.
But some people really don’t make it easy. Unfortunately, just because a member of your team is difficult to communicate with, doesn’t mean you can simply ignore them. So, how to deal with difficult team members? Burying your head in the sand isn’t the way – instead, you’ve got to work on your communication techniques.
First, it’s important to come at the situation with an open mind. Try to be understanding of people’s personalities as well as short-term issues. A difficult team member might just be having a bad day, and doesn’t really need a full-blown crash course in how to work well with others. That said, it’s important to set clear and transparent boundaries so as not to create a free-for-all environment at your agency. This includes opening a direct line of communication with your HR department and keeping them in the loop, as well as giving everyone involved in a dispute an equal chance to explain their side. If things really turn sour, you have to ask yourself: is this team member worth the hassle they are causing? However, this is a very last resort, and before you get to that, there are plenty of communication techniques to try first. Here are eight tips for working with difficult people and getting the best out of an employee, even if they’re not the easiest to manage.
1. Be Clear, Succinct, and Direct
Often, the biggest problem with communication is simply not understanding the other person. And while most of history’s greatest comedies are based on good ol’ misunderstanding, it doesn’t really work in an agency. By being clear, succinct, and direct in what you say, you can minimize the room left for misinterpretation.
2. Pick Your Moments Wisely
If you’re wondering how to have difficult conversations with your team members, here’s our top tip: don’t try to talk about something convoluted if a team member is distracted, busy, or otherwise unable to engage fully in the conversation.
If you have anything serious or potentially awkward to discuss, always ask them come to a quiet place where you can talk one on one. Regardless of your personal annoyance with difficult team members, you should never, ever embarrass them by bringing up any issue in a group meeting. Instead, talk to them directly about their behavior.
3. Choose Your Words Carefully
We all like to think we’re extremely eloquent, but more often than not, this is so far from the truth it’s laughable! Choosing your words is not just knowing what to talk about in general, but also using specific wording to get your point across effectively and create a cohesive workplace. For example, starting any sentence with “Obviously” or “Everyone thinks” will instantly make team members feel undervalued or outcast if they think in another way. It also shuts down communication, since you’ve made it clear that there is no discussing the fact – it’s already “obvious.” This goes against the very idea of communication!
Additionally, word choice can have a significant impact on how your team members relate to you, your agency and each other. Using pronouns like “we” and “us” can help foster a greater team spirit, while “I” and “you” can create power dynamics you don’t necessarily want. For example:
“We need to figure out how to pitch this new client so they can see how incredible we are.”
“I need you to give me some ideas for a new pitch so the company looks good.”
4. Ask Questions
Asking questions is often the best way to open a line of communication with a difficult team member. Ask why they acting like they are, and remember there are two types of questions: closed and open. Closed questions require a simple, stated answer which is normally “yes” or “no.” Open questions on the other hand require broader, more in-depth answers. They include questions such as “How are you?”
Both types of questions have their place, but when you’re looking to open a meaningful dialogue with a difficult member of your team, open questions can be a fantastic communication technique.
5. Think About Body Language
Sometimes it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it. And other times, it’s just how you look when you say it. Most changes you can make to your body language are pretty much common sense – smile when talking to your team members; don’t cross your arms; don’t keep glancing at your watch.
A good way to figure out how people react to body language is to pay attention to other people’s when they’re talking to you – and, more importantly, your reaction to it. Do you get annoyed when somebody does “that head tilt”? Well then, it’s probably best not to do it to your team members.
6. Ensure There’s Feedback
Feedback comes in two forms: from you to them, and vice versa. The team member in question should be able to give feedback on what you say and how you say it, as well as you giving them feedback. Additionally, there is the more subtle feedback that happens throughout any conversation – small indicators that you are listening when they talk.
These are almost impossible to fake, so you just need to make sure you’re genuinely invested in communicating. Which takes us onto our next communication technique…
7. Listen, Listen, Listen
Too often, people consider “communication” and “talking” to be the same thing. They aren’t at all! Communication involves a two-way dialogue, and one of the most important techniques you can learn is to actually listen. This means not just waiting for your turn to speak, but actively absorbing what the team member is saying.
This will help in the moment you’re communicating as well as in the long run, since you’ll have a better chance at understanding issues properly when working with difficult people.
8. Be ready to compromise
One of the best things you can do is open yourself up to the idea that you are not infallible! We know, it can be hard, but being able to accept compromise will help with all other aspects of your communication – from making you actively listen, to physically opening up your body language. It is the single simplest way to move towards a more cohesive team.
Communication in all its forms is crucial for a successful agency, so it’s important to hone your skills. Beyond this, it’s also important to ensure that there are simple, accessible ways for your team to communicate with each other. Software like Productive can help with this, since it allows your team to communicate internally in real time, limiting misunderstandings and missed ideas. Technological chatter combined with in-person communication is sure to set your agency on a path to success.