Dealing with Difficult Leaders

June 18, 2013

dealing with difficult people

Dealing with difficult people is never easy. When trying influence another leader who is notoriously difficult, you need to connect on a personal level. This is especially true when you are presenting something for their approval or with something you need their cooperation on. Here are five tips to connect:

1.    Make the first move. You may want to avoid a difficult leader whenever possible, but it’s actually best to initiate the conversation, and do it on a personal level.  Some leaders are shy themselves so if you introduce yourself, you demonstrate your self-confidence and set the right tone.

2.    Until you’ve made a connection, leave your agenda behind. Make small talk – about sports, your family, and other social topics. Difficult people are sometimes difficult because you don’t know them well enough to relate to them. Treat the leader as you would any other stranger you met at a party. Social occasions are not a good time to present proposals or to negotiate terms. But if you have a big idea, ask if you may request a meeting with one of the boss’s direct reports. Or maybe even email the idea direct to the leader. Being tactful is a way to be remembered.

3.    Adopt the big picture view. Present your ideas in ways that affirm what’s good for both parties. Position your proposal as something that helps achieve his or her goals, not simply those for yourself or your team. Such positions affirm your ability to think strategically. Sometimes adopting the big picture means accepting small wins. Perhaps you haven’t convinced the leader completely to your side, but you have made progress.

4.    Give thanks for feedback. Listen to critiques of your ideas with an open mind. Never act defensive. Leaders will remember how well you accept criticism and whether you’re open to their real opinion. If you are easy to talk to and open, you will be invited back. If you lash out, that will affect your ability to work together. You may not even be invited to finish your conversation.

5.    Exude confidence, but be humble. Demonstrate poise as well as self-awareness. Physically, you need to maintain a strong posture, make good eye contact, and smile when appropriate. Mentally, remember to maintain your cool and keep your composure. Relating to leaders requires a belief in your abilities as well as the conviction that you have something to offer.

For more negotiation tips, check out Negotiation Tactics: 4 Crucial Steps to Prepare for a Negotiation.

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About The Author

John Baldoni, chair of leadership development at N2Growth, is an internationally recognized leadership educator, executive coach and speaks throughout North America, Europe and the Middle East. John is the author of more than a dozen books, including MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership, Lead with Purpose, Lead Your Boss, and The Leader’s Pocket Guide. John’s books have been translated into 10 languages. In 2015 Trust Across America named him to its list of top 100 most trustworthy business experts for the second consecutive year. In 2014 listed John as a Top 50 leadership expert and Top 100 leadership speaker. Also in 2014, Global Gurus ranked John No. 11 on its list of global leadership experts. John has authored more than 500 leadership columns for a variety of online publications including Forbes, Harvard Business Review and Bloomberg Businessweek. John’s leadership resource website is

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