Case study: Dealing with difficult people

Kiera and Jason didn’t get on. Annette, their supervisor, tried to sort things out. But Kiera insisted it was all Jason’s fault. Kiera refused to acknowledge her own part in the conflict. In desperation, Annette enrolled in my course on Dealing with Difficult People. During a break, I talked to Annette about how to set boundaries and limits on poor behaviour in the team. You might find these tips useful, too.

You can’t change what difficult people think…

As much as she wished she could, Annette might never be able to change Kiera’s mindset. Some people aren’t emotionally ready to accept their part in a conflict. So Annette needed to set some firm boundaries on the behaviours which were acceptable in the team. She needed to focus on shifting actions, not attitudes.

…But you CAN set limits on toxic behaviour

Kiera was prone to emotional outbursts and ‘temper tantrums.’ Annette had heard her shouting at Jason on several occasions. As the team’s supervisor, Annette needed to deal with this situation immediately. I suggested that she check her company’s policies on appropriate workplace behaviour, handling conflict and managing grievances. This would give her a good starting point for explaining to Kiera which behaviours were and were not okay.

Use the WISH formula to set boundaries

I also explained that Annette should deal with one issue at a time. This would reduce the risk that Kiera would react badly to Annette’s feedback. Annette decided that her first priority would be to let Kiera know that shouting at colleagues was unacceptable. During the workshop, everyone was working on ways to set boundaries. Annette used the practical session to plan what she would say to Kiera. She used the WISH formula to do this. A WISH statement is a feedback message structured in four parts. It is designed to keep the conversation factual and non-inflammatory. Here’s how to create a WISH statement.

Part one: when

The opening phrase of the WISH statement describes – in objective language – a behaviour which needs to change. For example, Annette could say “When you raise your voice…”

Part two: it causes

In the second section of the WISH statement, you describe the impact of the behaviour. You can do this by saying “It causes me to feel…” or “It causes problems because…” A slight variation of this formula is to say “It sounds/looks …”For example, Annette could say “It sounds like you’re attacking Jason.”

Part three: so in future…

This segment of WISH describes the behaviour you would like to see or hear in future. For example, Annette could say “So if future, I’d like to hear you keeping your voice at a normal speaking tone when you’re talking to Jason.”

Part four: how can you do this?

The final part of the WISH statement asks the other person to take responsibility for shifting their own behaviour. For example, Annette could say “Let’s talk about how to do this” or “How can you respond to Jason differently in future?”

Want to know more? Watch my video on using WISH statements