At the most basic level, the world of construction is a people-focused industry. Whether it’s winning bids of liaising with subcontractors or architects, every stage of business involves interacting with people.
This means, however, sometimes having to deal with difficult people. We at Construction Guide take a people-centered approach to our business and are always looking for ways to make an impression. As a result, we’ve put together this guide focusing on the 6 steps to dealing with difficult people in the construction industry.
Using the phrase “difficult people” is a somewhat vague and umbrella term, so what do we really mean by it? In the context of business, difficult people can be defined as those who don’t agree with your strategy, or are resistant to your ideas for reasons that aren’t immediately obvious.
For example, a subcontractor might be resistant to your newly suggested way of working, which can lead to arguments, breakdown in communication, and, ultimately, loss of business or delays to your schedule. However, all of this can be avoided by understanding why someone might be difficult.
Rather than asking, “Why is this person being difficult?” consider what it is that they’re resistant to. This might be frustration over new working procedures, anger that their views are being ignored, or annoyance that they weren’t consulted about something before it was implemented.
Next, we must understand why they have responded in this way. This can be explained with some simple science: a potentially dangerous (or negative) situation has triggered their fight or flight response. In short, their options for response are either to leave or to fight, which in this context presents as being resistant or argumentative.
Finally, we must consider how we, as the non-difficult party, can work to overcome the other person’s resistance. The most important tool here is effective communication, which should be combined with the ability to see things from their perspective. This is the bottom line to effective negotiation in any industry.
The points above should dictate how you approach any difficult person, regardless of whether this is in work or your personal life. Below are the 6 steps to effectively dealing with difficult people, which are all framed by the what, why, and how listed above.
If someone becomes angry or frustrated because of a business conversation, our first step should be to understand how we as the other party are approaching the issue. While our first reaction might be to meet their anger with our own, this is only going to make the situation worse.
Along with making the other person more frustrated, us becoming angry only narrows our perception, as we’re blocking off access to important parts of our brain that would be very useful in this situation. Therefore, we should aim to stay calm and confident in order to keep the situation as positive as we can.
In short, approach any business conversation with an already good knowledge of beneficial communication skills for reducing conflict. These include a level head, the ability to not become combative or frustrated, and a desire to see things from the other person’s perspective.
It should be your job in the conversation to lead by example. Rather than reacting to someone’s frustration, enter the conversation with a mindset equipped to resolve conflict. If it helps, produce a mind map of everything you consider to be a positive quality for conflict resolution, and then take ownership of these qualities in every conversation you have.
How we initially respond to someone being difficult is arguably the most important step in the whole process. Rather than labeling someone’s feelings, it’s much more effective to respond in a fair and constructive way.
By telling someone, “You’re being difficult,” you’re applying a label that’s seen as inherently negative, and this is only going to intensify any negative feelings the other person may have toward you or the situation. Plus, making this statement doesn’t offer anything constructive, and is only going to make the person defensive.
Instead, remember why it is you’re working with them in the first place. What do they do well that makes them a desirable colleague? Can you empathize with them about their negative feelings? Does their perspective on the issue make sense when you see it from their side?
In short, you don’t necessarily want to change their perspective at this time, but instead want to make them more receptive to further conversations on the issue. Highlight positive things they have done or contributions they have made to the project so far. If they’re able to remember why they’re in this, then you can move on to talking them round to your side.
The main reason why people become difficult in business situations is because they believe they’re right. Whether this is true or not isn’t particularly relevant, as it’s about perspective. On top of this, many fear that the other party won’t be receptive to their thoughts, which is why they get defensive.
Take time to understand their thoughts on the issue. Why do they disagree with you? Do they believe their way of doing things is better, and, if so, why? What has led them to believe that their way is the best way?
It’s vital to be a good listener and to display active listening signals. Respond to what they’re saying and show that it’s important to you. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with them (and you probably don’t if there’s conflict over the issue). What matters is that they understand their views are being heard.
As mentioned, much of a person’s difficulty in a conflict situation comes from a fear that their views and thoughts will be ignored. We get into an automatically defensive state, ready to be ignored.
Therefore, the easiest way to stop this in its tracks is to address the issue. This involves empathizing with them and making it known that you’re doing so. For example, you could say something like “I understand why this is frustrating you,” or “I appreciate you bringing your experience and perspectives to the issue.”
Many of us are caught off guard by someone empathizing with our perspective, as it’s not what we expect in a conflict situation. In fact, this step can be so disarming that the other person is suddenly able to be more open. Also, it’s worth remembering that empathy doesn’t mean agreement; it simply means you can see where they’re coming from.
It’s perfectly common for us to leave a conflict situation and to continue thinking about the issue for days. What’s more, the other person is likely doing the same thing. Rather than remembering and celebrating the resolution, we focus on the conflict itself, which can have an impact on future relationships.
Instead, focus on moving forward together and considering how you can improve your relationship in the future. Use this conflict to understand what’s important for them, and if (and how) this aligns with what’s important to you.
Not all conflicts can end in resolution, particularly in the business world. However, if you are able to come to a resolution, then let this be what both of you remember. If either party made compromises to resolve the issue, then focus on this too. Compromise is ultimately a sign of empathy because you’ve been able to see things from the other side.
Moving into the problem-solving stage before someone has completely changed their mind will only move you further back. For example, if you suggest a resolution that aligns primarily with your views, the other person might consider this to be a concession on their part, which will make them more resistant.
Before moving onto problem solving, ensure you’ve made the most of your solution-focused conversation. Have you both suggested ways to solve the problem? Is their perspective any different? If not, is there some kind of compromise you can make that covers both sides?
If your ultimate aim is for the other party to agree with your resolution, then you must take the time to show them why it’s the desirable way forward. Effective problem solving can’t begin until you both have some kind of shared perspective on the issue.
Working with difficult people will happen in any industry, but particularly in people-focused ones such as construction. Therefore, knowing the right strategies to overcome problems before they happen is the best way forward.
To avoid the chances of this happening, why not let Construction Guide help? Using our service to find the most suitable firms for your project will help to minimize the chances of conflict, as we vet every company to ensure they’re the right match for you. Contact us to see how we can help.