You need only these 5 Steps to Deal with Difficult People at Your Nonprofit (with a template!)

What I Learned from my Conversation with the Author of The Schmuck in my Office

by Ro

What I Learned from my Conversation with the Author of The Schmuck in my Office

by Ro

by Ro

Dr. Jody Foster, the co-author of The Schmuck In My Office, visited the Successful Nonprofits® Book Club last year.

Authors often join in our book club sessions, which is a unique opportunity to not just discuss a book – but to probe, push, and learn more from the person who wrote and researched the book. 

I’ve gifted this book dozens of times over the years, and give it often when working with a coaching client or former client experiencing significant interpersonal issues with a Board member or staff member. 

One of the most powerful questions we often ask authors is, “If you wrote this book today, what would you change or include?” This question allows us to learn how the author’s thoughts have evolved – – – or sometimes just encapsulates a book’s core concepts in new ways. 

When we asked Dr. Foster this question, she offered some sage advice that summarizes the book’s call to action: 

When faced with a difficult interaction, we must take five key steps:

        1. Check yourself first. Why is this behavior disrupting my ability to work? Sometimes, behavior is disruptive or irritating because of our own past experiences and others don’t experience the same frustration from the person we’ve labelled a “schmuck.”
        2. Name the beast. Naming the specific disruptive behavior helps us identify what needs to be changed. The goal of this process is to describe the behavior in concrete terms. Questions to ask ourselves include: 
            • A. What is causing me trouble?
            • B. What part of this am I actually having trouble with?
            • C. What behavior is abhorrent behavior to me?
        3. Tap into your empathy muscle. While we don’t want to excuse or condone schmuck-like behavior, seeking to understand the person is key to a disarming conversation with the person. If you’re like me and sometimes need help tapping into your deepest pools of empathy, consider the following questions:
            • A. Is this the person’s baseline character? 
            • B. What do you know about the person that might have helped them get like this?
            • C. When have I behaved like this? 
        4. Call it out. Bad behavior will continue unless we address it. So, it’s imperative to intervene as early as possible. Dr. Foster also recognized that some situations don’t always allow us to speak with the person right away, but we need to address it as soon as possible. Since it’s human nature to avoid difficult conversations, don’t use this as an excuse to never have a conversation about the disruptive behavior. 
        5. Be Concise. When you do intervene and address the jerk-like behavior, be concise and direct. This should be a short conversation, not an hour of conversation and negotiation. 

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Once Dr. Jody Foster shared these five steps for dealing with disruptive behavior, one book club participant asked what specifically should we say to the person. She offered this simple outline for addressing disruptive behavior:

      1. I value you.
      2. You’re good at what you do.
      3. You’re a boone to the organization and we want you here.
      4. BUT this thing you do (or things you do) is causing so much trouble that if you continue them, I’m going to have to let you go.
      5. If you can’t stop on your own, let me try to help you. Tell me what you need.

After Dr. Foster provided this six-point outline for the difficult conversation, she shared this caveat: Remember your goal isn’t to change people We aren’t mental health professionals. And even if you are a mental health professional, your colleagues haven’t’ engaged you to serve as their therapist. So, it’s not our job to change someone. Instead, our goal is simply for the person to stop being disruptive in the workplace. 

Why I’m Writing About This

In addition to helping executive coaching clients deal with difficult people, I’m human and encounter schmucks myself. It’s good to have a structure to deal with the schmuck in your nonprofit.

Additionally, check out the following Successful Nonprofits® resources if this post was helpful:

Blog: How to Fire a Difficult Board Member

Blog: 9 Lessons I’ve Learned About Asking for Help

Podcast: Surviving Conflict with Karen Feste

Podcast: Timeless Tips for Working with Difficult People with Jody Foster

Feel free to share your thoughts!

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