Do you ever dread a certain day of the week?
Years ago, I loathed Wednesday mornings. My issue was not with that day in particular, rather with a person I came in contact with: My Garbageman.
In my neighborhood the garbageman had a habit that drove me crazy. Not only would he not place my trashcan back where I had left it, but he would literally throw it in the street or in my yard. It was not just mine, our entire street looked like murderers row of trash cans as they lay strewn all around.
After months of swerving through what looked like a scene from The Walking Dead, I decided to take action. I wrote notes asking nicely, I sent emails complaining and I even stayed home one day to confront this guy. Once I realized that he looked like a more muscular version of The Rock, my “confrontation” got a lot softer.
Nothing worked. Finally, I decided to change my approach. Instead of complaining about his work, I would try to connect with him as a person. I found myself searching for ways to do this. I shifted from burning bridges to attempting to build them.
It never fails that we bump into people similar to my garbageman. "Difficult" is perhaps a kind word to describe some of these individuals. Do you ever struggle connecting with those you lead? Maybe your children? People on your staff? Coworkers or bosses? Today I want to focus on how to break down barriers and build bridges to these types of individuals.
Here are 3 actions you can take that help you better lead difficult people.
Do something unexpected.
I could not get this guy to do what I wanted. Instead of fighting for my cause, I decided to focus on his cause. Every Wednesday morning I started leaving bottles of cold water for he and his crew. It was hot and they were working hard, so it made sense. Without fail, the waters were there. If I happened to be at home, I would take water out to them personally. Doing something unexpected added value to this guy where arguing never could.
You have an opportunity today to so something for one person in a way they will never see coming. Approach a person differently than they are used to. The journey to engage someone's heart is to take an unexpected path.
What can you do for someone today? Maybe it is writing a card to someone on your team. Perhaps you can call an old friend only to ask how their day is going. Another thought is to leave a note in your kids lunchbox just to encourage them. Unexpected actions break down barriers in people's heart. Do something different today and see what happens.
Show genuine interest.
After months of serving these men who picked up my trash, I actually got to know them. While we were never close friends, we became very familiar with each other. I decided to never ask for my trashcan to be put back correctly again. Instead I made it a point to only ask these guys questions about them. Before long I got to know their story. I memorized the names of their children, learned where they came from and caught glimpses of the struggles of their reality.
People long for someone to care about their life. How would it open a difficult individual up if you stopped pressing an issue with them and started showing concern for them? Getting involved in the lives of those you lead and know enables you to have greater influence with them.
Here’s a good way to do this: Ask more questions than they do. Knowing how to learn someone else's story is vital to leading people. Great questions are more strategic than great answers. Keep the focus on them. Do not be the guy who only talks about himself for an entire conversation. My rule is to never talk about myself until someone asks. It is a turn off to be around people who immediately start telling you about their life. Instead, open a person up by asking questions and being interested in their answers.
Search for good in people.
I confess that those Wednesdays connecting with my new friends challenged me. These guys did not have the cleanest language, seemed sorta dangerous, and had lived hard lives. Even with their rough exterior, they had good inside of them. A life of being told otherwise had convinced them they had little to offer. My role became to encourage them towards a better mindset.
Most people come from a world where they feel pressure and are overexposed by negativity. When you are intentional about searching for good in them, they will respond. Something about your positive energy enables them to see themselves differently. Taking this action is not only helpful to them, but is also for you. This view reshapes how you see people. When you look for the gold in people you don't focus as much on the dirt. Spend time today helping people see the good that they offer.
A simple way to do this is by finding some element of their story that is a soft spot for you, and putting your focus there. For me it is learning about a person's children. Once I find out they have kids, I want to know more. Usually this opens me up to the individual because I have a soft spot as a Dad. Use an emotional connection like this as a bridge to find good in someone.
Quite a period of time went by of leaving water and trying to connect with my garbagemen. Honestly, I grew to like the guys and sorta forgot the frustration that gave birth to my experiment. Until one day when I came home from work to that familiar scene of trash cans laying all over my street...except in front of my house. Sitting there next to my mailbox, in the exact place I had left it, was my trashcan. While my garbagemen did not take care of their complaining customer, they took extra care of their friend.
You are a leader. You have influence. Your voice matters to some. You may have to work to make it matter to others. Do not get frustrated by that, it is part of the game. Your voice is too valuable to spend your time yelling at people and never being able to really speak to them. Take the extra time to build bridges to people around you who need to hear the words that you have to say.
Good luck today!