Contagious Difficult People

I am coming back to an old topic:  Dealing with Difficult People.

(Note:  There is some 'politically correct' language I'd like to address here.  I am all for "naming behaviours rather than naming names", and I was tempted to re-title this post 'difficult situations', so as to depersonalise these situations.  But realistically I am not talking about a situation devoid of players.  I am talking about how you deal with the fact that someone is standing out from the crowd for the wrong reasons.  Wrong for me as facilitator; wrong for the process we are following; wrong at this point in the process; and/or wrong for other participants who want to participate.)

Difficult people are a problem, as they put barriers in the way of success.  They can stop you from doing what you want to do, or take you where you do not want to go.

They are also a problem as their aggression/frustration/refusal cooperate can be infectious.  It can affect one or two people, or lots of people.  Some processes rely on people being forthcoming about topics they are uncomfortable about.  These can fail when someone rails against you or your process.  (Be careful here, I have intentionally used 'you' and 'your', as facilitators often have an inflated level of ownership of process, and even of the audience, but that is definitely a topic for another post.)

The infection can also affect you.  As the facilitator I am not immune.  I can be deflated by someone's negativity.  I may lose my way, or just feel negative about the approach.  I need to come across as confident or I will not be convincing.

I'd like to say that this contagion can be positive.  Maybe I'm being overly negative, but I'm really not sure that it can.  Here are some possible positives:

  • You get to see some shortfallings of your process, and can address them 'on the fly'.
  • This person gets their issues 'off their chest', and turns around to become a positive contributor.
  • Someone else (with or without influence) asks the person to cooperate.
  • By becoming aware of issues you can 'work them into' the process later in the session.

This is a tricky area.  Good luck with your difficult people.