Dealing with difficult people is in the top three issues that we hear about at Leadership Emergency Services….every week we receive emails and inquiries on how to address this. It’s the one thing that drives leaders to despair. Dealing with that bad apple that seems to make everything a challenge, can be exhausting and time consuming.
The focused and driven volunteers in your team may be having a bad time with difficult personalities and behaviours and as a leader it is your job to ensure it doesn’t continue and is dealt with promptly.
Maybe you cannot understand why people want to be anything other than professional or team focussed. Perhaps you feel that people should not let their personal problems or prejudices intrude on the volunteer commitments. The fact is that volunteers sometimes do bring their personal baggage to the brigade, group or unit.
If a volunteer isn’t experiencing safety, belonging and mattering in their team environment, this insecurity may show up in the form of malicious gossip or slander, a bit of an ‘attitude’ towards the leadership, manipulation, being obviously difficult or just plain nasty. Such behaviours tend to grate on our nerves. We may assume that they are doing this deliberately to undermine us and promote their own agendas – and we may be right.
The reasons though often lie a lot deeper than what appear on the surface. Let’s look at some behaviours of difficult people and how we can learn to deal with them.
Their prime purpose is to get in the good books. They will be ‘sucking up’ at any opportunity to management or the leadership – aka the decision makers. They stand out like a sore thumb from others in the team and can be despised. They want to fast track a secure route to favouritism. Brown nosers see themselves in a positive light…..they are just being helpful in their own eyes. To them, it is dedication and devotion to those in charge. This presents a major problem – they are very averse to being told the truth about their tactics.
The Sabotager disrupts the peace and harmony of the team and is often unable to achieve good results in their own right, so they sabotage those of others. These people may feel a lack of self confidence and are seeking significance in the team. They may show the following traits:
* They spread malicious gossip
* Put others down in the hope it makes them look better
* Try to get others offside so you will accept them more
* Look for ways to cast a bad eye on others in the team and cast blame.
The sabotager can cause a lot of damage and is often extremely clever. Dealing with this behaviour can be time-consuming and extremely stressful. Look for ways to build this person’s self confidence. Small wins at first while working towards their goals. Although it may sound counterintuitive, ensure the sabotager is recognised and rewarded for their achievements, however small. Underlying their sabotaging behaviour is their craving for mattering and belonging.
What about the obnoxious volunteer who pushes their weight around? The behaviours may represent themselves as ridiculing other, veiled threats, verbal, emotional or physical abuse. This can also continue outside the volunteer environment and into the social circles. The object of a bully is similar to the Sabotager but may also include:
* Personal insecurities
* Lack of their own experience, knowledge or skills
* A reflection of their upbringing, life experience or past personal relationships of neglect or abuse
The bully is often highly insecure and is most often dealing with their own demons and personal problems. Abuse should not be tolerated in any form and I expect is a breach of your organisation's code of conduct. So immediately action must be taken to manage this conflict as per your organisation's policy.
You will need to confront this person in private and deal with the issue immediately. As a leader you need to have respect for this person and deal with this in a confidential manner. The bully will feel less defensive if there is no audience and it will give you the opportunity to ask questions and look for underlying problems.
The Chronic Snitch
Whether for personal gain or out of plain mean-mindedness, such persons will not hesitate to alert management of your wrong doings (in their eyes). The chronic snitch is usually pleasant and co-operative on the surface. This enables them to obtain inside information and then act on it. Here are some symptoms of such a turncoat in your team:
* A personal confidence that damages your image is leaked to management
* The fact that you have under-performed or made a serious mistake is suddenly the talk of the team
* Personal and outside issues are brought up in a volunteer team environment and slander
* The snitch takes the credit for a job that someone else put in the hard work for.
The chronic snitch is seeking safety, belonging and mattering in their team. They may feel as though they aren’t good enough and their contributions don’t matter. Someone presenting with these behaviours is looking to succeed but doesn’t know how. Look for ways to incorporate team building into your training and creating more trust. This person could also do well by being provided with some responsibilities and ownership of a task where they have agreed outcomes. Set them up for success and never for failure.
There is absolute credit in being ambitious and working your way to achieve your goals and it should be encouraged by the leadership. However the volunteering platform shouldn’t be used as a venue for political intrigue. If fellow volunteers and superiors are used as a stepping stone and are being manipulated for personal gain then this can cause problems and tension in the team. Some examples might be:
* Blackmail to get a personal deal through
* Gossip to spread a self-serving rumour
* Name dropping and claims of personal connections to hierarchy
* Alignment or affiliation with outside associations
The politician’s ultimate objective is to gain a position of strength. This strength may then used to gain internal traction, eg. Promotion or financial gain not related to official work.
You can provide further information to this person on the organisation’s stance on codes of practice and conflicts of interest. It is also a reminder to discuss expectations at the point of volunteer induction and what are acceptable behaviours. Also worth reminding volunteers are the values of the organisation and that it underpins all activities of a volunteer. Look for ways to embody the values at a grass roots level and incorporate training that is focussed on those values. Eg. Community safety, preparedness and response.
This list is not comprehensive and behaviours will vary just like the demographic and culture of your volunteer team. Volunteers want to know they feel part of something bigger, something that matters and something that is enjoyable. Instead of focussing on the behaviours, focus on the person and what their underlying need is.
1. Do they feel like they are safe to contribute in the team without negativity, if not why not? How can you ensure they feel safe and an integral part of the team?
2. Do they feel like they belong in the team, if not why not? How can you build a better and more inclusive team?
3. Do they feel like their contributions matter, if not why not? How do you ensure success of your members and they are recognised for their achievements, big and small?