When you are a leader, sometimes you get to pick the people you work with and other times they’re chosen for you. Hopefully, most of the people you lead will have positive attitudes, follow your leadership, and be an all-around team player. Unfortunately, there will always be some who know how to push your buttons, frustrate your leadership, and cause friction amongst the team.
I call these folks: difficult people.
Rather than avoiding or dreading the time you must deal with people who are difficult, it may be helpful to identify ways difficult people can make you better.
1. Difficult people help us clarify what’s really important.
When people are argumentative and find fault in most everything we do, we need to pick our battles wisely. Simply arguing back only fuels their effort. We must choose our battles wisely. Not everything is worth arguing about. There may be something of value in their perspective.
2. Difficult people help us understand how to give grace.
Grace can be defined as giving someone something that they don’t deserve (different than mercy – not giving someone something that they do deserve). Our initial response may be to withold things from people that we find difficult. Often that’s necessary. But great leaders are able to balance graceful acts with those that are truly deserved.
3. Difficult people help us to learn to care for others unconditionally.
Some leaders only show concern or care for others if they feel like they have earned it or if they show care or concern in return. While similar to giving grace, a leader who truly cares about people will often be able to see past the poor behavior to the value of an individual.
4. Difficult people help us understand ourselves.
This one is a bit convicting. We are often frustrated by behavior in others because it mirrors behavior that we don’t like in ourselves. It is important to identify the source of our frustration beyond simply laying blame on another. Difficult people make us take a hard look in the mirror.
5. Difficult people may be our greatest source of untapped potential.
Perhaps you have avoided working with this person because they are difficult. Yet, beyond personality conflicts or poor conduct, this person may have some extremely beneficial resources to offer to the organization. Sometimes people can be difficult because they’re in a position that isn’t well-suited for them.
6. Difficult people keep us humble.
Are the people around you that you consider difficult merely offering different ideas and ways to do things that are…well…different? Dealing with difficult people isn’t easy. Confronting someone else is always hard. Each situation can expose our own inadequacies. Dealing with difficult people can keep us from becoming too cocky as leaders.
What do you think? How has dealing with difficult people in your own life and leadership made you better?