Difficult People at Work – What Do You Expect?

“All problems with people are the result of unfulfilled or violated expectations.” – William G. Dyer, former dean of the Marriott School of Management at Brigham Young University

According to Dr. Dyer, the primary reason that we find ourselves dealing with “difficult” people is that they violate or do not meet our expectations. They don’t do what we expect them to do or they don’t behave how we expect them to act. In other words, the source of the difficulty with others lies as much or more in our expectations than in their behavior!

If this is true, we have a powerful principle and perspective to aid us in dealing with difficult people. Rarely do we experience success in simply hoping that others change or, even more so, in determinedly trying to change others. In fact, the only thing you are guaranteed to accomplish when you try to change another person is to make two people frustrated and unhappy – the other person and yourself! (If you see any other result, it is as much due to accident or luck as to design.)

Differences do make a difference in working with others. When there are differences between what we expect and what occurs, it is very easy to pinpoint the cause of the problem as the other person. We are far more likely to complain, “That person is very difficult to work with” than to say, “I am expecting something different than what I am seeing from the other person.”

It is so easy to blame others for the problems we face in working with them. It is more challenging – but far more useful – to start by identifying the differences between what you are expecting and what is actually occurring. It is extremely easy to become frustrated and upset with a “difficult” person (and when our strong emotions take over, we are not at our best in working through issues!). It is more challenging – and ultimately much more productive – to explore both sides of the problem by looking at the gap between your expectations (your part) along with the behavior you are seeing (the other person’s part).

Here is an important truism – you cannot be “furious” and “curious” at the same time. When you are angry and upset at another person for being difficult, you cannot easily examine your own expectations gap objectively. Only when you are curious about all aspects of a difficult situation can you see the entire picture. And only when you have a complete understanding of the causes of a problem will you be most successful in solving it.

TIP FOR SUCCESS: Whenever you find yourself angry with and blaming a “difficult” person, take a moment to turn your view to yourself and examine your expectations. You are likely to be far more successful in identifying, discussing, and bridging an expectations gap than in changing others.

Dee Oviatt | GPHR
ATW Training Solutions
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