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The Cost of Difficult People

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he cost of difficult people is huge: disruptions to the working atmosphere, reduced productivity and morale, money spent frivolously, and time wasted trying to ignore a problem which refuses to go away. Difficult people need to be tackled with a direct approach to avoid contaminating others with inappropriate and costly behaviour.

Tackling bad behaviour and promoting positive qualities can transform a bad situation into an advantageous arrangement: promoting a proficient work environment, strengthening morale and productivity, increasing profits and the efficient use of time. Here’s how.

It Only Takes One

A single person has the capacity to cause great damage to your company’s reputation. This may or may not be done intentionally. We all come to work with our own psychological idiosyncrasies and emotional baggage, our unique quirks and mannerisms that are sometimes inappropriate for the workplace. At first it can seem that disruptive behaviour from one of your employees is not worth dealing with, but many who made this assumption in the past paid for it dearly.

CEO Cameron Herold estimates that the cost of a problematic employee can be up to 15 times more than their annual salary. This cost is derived from employees that leave because of their troublemaking co-worker and customers that are repulsed by him or her.

A study conducted by CPP, Inc. on workplace conflict found that US employees spend nearly 3 hours of their working week handling conflicts, which is costing the companies paying for this work time about $359 billion annually. The study also found that companies providing training conflict management had the highest levels of positive outcomes, and vice versa.

The Main Sources of Conflict

The CPP study, which looked at businesses in the UK, US, Brazil and various European countries, reported that the main source of problems that result in conflict are clashes of personality, stress, overbearing workloads, and poor leadership. Such conflicts often result in lower morale, lower productivity, employees taking sick days off, and even losing customers and employees.

However, when properly managed, conflicts become an opportunity to strengthen a business. According to the CPP study, 76% of people who were involved in a resolving a conflict witnessed a positive outcome: 41% believed it helped deepen their understanding of others, 33% gained better relationships with their co-workers, and 29% perceived that the conflict actually resulted in a better solution to the company’s challenge. As one may suspect, those who were trained in conflict management had increased scores of positive outcomes.

Managers and employees need to be empowered in how to deal with conflict management. This allows staff members to be more confident in dealing with difficult people. The more an individual is empowered to deal with conflict, the less attached they are to the conflict itself and they become more resilient in general.

Furthermore, given the financial cost of conflicts, forking out for conflict management training will more than pay for itself many times over. Conflict management even creates the potential to generate more revenue from new solutions that were previously unavailable before people broke down the superficial barriers we all hold for fear of what other people think, allowing them to reach a synergy by being mutually authentic.

Peace Be Upon You

Resolving conflicts is about understanding people’s needs. Conflicts arise because people feel they don’t have their needs met and they don’t know how to meet them without some form of dispute. When employees have needs that they don’t feel are being met, for example, the need to not be harassed by a co-worker or not to be given too much work to do, this will have a negative impact on their performance and productivity.

In order to resolve conflict, there are some essential skills needed.

Listening skills. When listening to others, you must actively listen and search for their need that is not being met in the person’s communication.

Resilience. You must be able to deal with stressful situations and keep cool, calm and level headed. This takes practice but the more you expose yourself to stressful interactions the greater your tolerance for them becomes.

Respect. Even if the other party is in your opinion completely wrong, it is imperative you deal with them respectfully. Conflicts that result in name calling are not only hurtful, but completely unprofessional and inappropriate.

Forgiveness. The ability to forgive is a powerful attribute. Forgiveness does not mean you agree with transgressions made by others, but it does mean you accept what has happened, choose to no longer dwell on it and let it go.

Through listening, you gain understanding of what needs are unmet. With resilience, you are able to listen even in the midst of a heated exchange and stay focused on the pertinent information. Respect helps you to concentrate on the matter at hand without getting lost in your judgements and blame of other people. You can then find solutions to fulfil the unmet needs of either party, and forgiveness allows you to move on from the interaction without holding any grudges.

Of course, this is just a brief glimpse into resolving conflicts. There are many more facets to this subject, but it is well worth investing the time, money and energy into learning how to deal with difficult people and situations, which enables you to run a better business. New Skills Academy have developed their online courses ‘Dealing with Difficult People and Situations’ and ‘Dealing with Customer Complaints’ to help individuals and employers avoid these costs of conflict. Conflicts in the workplace don’t have to be problems, they can instead be opportunities for growth and expansion.


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