Over breakfast with a coaching colleague recently, I informed her that I was enrolled in an upcoming workshop on “Dealing with Difficult People”.
She was almost aghast that in this day and age, an organisation would use the term “Difficult People” in the name of a course that they offer. “Hmmm”, I thought, maybe she has a point. Once a person is labelled “Difficult”, often many of their issues become even harder to overcome because of the term.
Maybe the name of the course has failed to evolve with time, or maybe a more politically correct term would not attract as many participants, but the subject of difficult people, difficult situations, and difficult conversations has been top of mind for me lately.
Sometimes we spend a lot of energy doing everything we possibly can to avoid dealing with topics that make us uncomfortable. Other times, we are comfortable with an issue, but we fear that the person to whom we want to deliver a message will not take it well, and it is therefore easier to avoid it.
If someone really needs to understand something important, but nobody is willing to help them see the light, or to help them see themselves as others do, is it really better to just go on and not try to help them, just because it might be difficult?
When communicating with others on sensitive subjects, most of us have heard the term “you can disagree without being disagreeable”. I am talking about much the same thing here.
I often tell my kids that what you say is important, but HOW you say it is even more important.
Broaching difficult subjects requires tact, emotional maturity, empathy, and the ability to listen to people without judging them.
In a family business situation, these sorts of scenarios play themselves out over and over. And because family members have so much history together, a lot of things get carried around like excess baggage, for far too long.
Sometimes situations fester and eventually a difficult conversation can no longer be avoided. It is usually only after this discussion has taken place that any real progress can actually happen. Family members will sometimes look back and recall that the difficult confrontation that they were trying to avoid was actually the key to moving forward.
So not only is avoiding difficulty not always easy, it is not always recommended. It sometimes takes courage to begin discussions that must be had, but that courage is often rewarded.
A fresh perspective from an objective set of eyes can be so helpful for the person who needs to make some changes but who has not seen the urgency to act.
Nobody is “difficult” per se. Everyone deserves a chance to be the best they can be, especially in a family business.
One of the biggest obstacles to happiness in business families is poor communication, which leads to confusion over roles, ambiguity about future goals, and assumptions that each person makes about where they fit, now and in the future.
Clarifying these things involves communication, and much of that communication includes conversations, and they are often difficult conversations.
But the longer those difficult conversations are put off, the more confusion, ambiguity, and wrong assumptions take root, and then you risk the possibility of some members of the family becoming “Difficult people”.
People are not difficult. Situations can be difficult. Change the labels, look at things realistically, start the conversations gently, listen to others, without judgment, and move forward.
Nobody ever said it was going to be easy.