Every Association’s Major Concern: Working with Difficult People

It seems every association has at least one: a difficult person. For the executive director and Board, it takes a special set of skills to deal with that person effectively. Failure to do so can create more than one, and even lead to an epidemic of difficult people.

Why do associations encounter this particular challenge? Most association boards and committees are selected from membership. They are generally unpaid, volunteer positions. Many companies take advantage of association membership, sending their rising stars and good managers to work on boards and committees with the intent of making a community or industry difference. Often, it improves the participant’s leadership skills, savvy and experience. It’s one of the fastest ways for a person to develop their people skills – or demonstrate their deficiencies.

As executive director or board president, you may look at the prospective incumbent as an external challenge and ask, “How can I work effectively with difficult people?” A better first question might be to ask yourself “What are some of the key issues that we need to address internally that can prevent people from becoming difficult to work with?”

Suggestion 1: Orientation

Remember that perception is reality and “being difficult”  exists in the eye of the beholder. Usually, people are perceived as difficult when they are unaware of or unsure how to properly utilize systems and structures. Unfortunately, many associations do not adequately train new board and committee members, citing the common “shortage of time factor.” They also do not refresh and remind returning members about how to work with one another. Even the most minor of conflicts can create a potential problem through misunderstanding, and can become very time consuming.

Set up an orientation process for all Board members. Develop a program that will address how the Board works together, including information on procedures, agreements, issues pending, as well as governance protocol. Be sure the information is sent in written form before the session, with sufficient time for busy people to read and process before their orientation session. Then, review key points, and include exercises for each person to get to know others and have some fun – people learn better in an interactive process. As a bonus, include an assessment to help people clarify their own inherent strengths and weaknesses when working with others, and clarify for themselves, and others, situations that might cause them to be perceived as a difficult team member.

Suggestion 2: Integration

Appoint an experienced board member to mentor each new board member, and ask the pair to meet regularly for at least a few months. Encourage (or require) all Board members to attend all regularly scheduled association events. This helps keep them current on issues important to members, upcoming industry or professional changes, why prospective members may be hesitating to join, and potential opportunities for improvement.

Suggestion 3: Communication

Usually, when you have a new Board member, some of the communication styles the group took for granted will no longer work. Changes in people mean changes in communication style, and any change may get in the way of messages being heard and understood. A reality check will answer the question, “Is this working for everyone?”

If members talk over others or a leader cuts people short, the group may be headed for trouble. A new member (who may be trying to share an idea or ask a question) may be offended. Often, they will take that information back to their company. Presto! Someone is now perceived as “difficult to work with.”  Perception rules the day.

While it’s critical to pay attention to your agenda and timetable during a meeting, remember that a primary consideration for people working on the Board is that they wish to contribute by being heard and respected. Usually, people depend upon the communication style of the other Board members as an indicator of those values. When respect is lacking, people may challenge others to see just where they stand – the genesis of a “difficult person.” To assess your own Board’s strength, ask: Do Board members come to meetings willingly, or do you have to persuade them?

In one instance, a newly elected board president was offended when a new board member indicated that it wasn’t appropriate to be cut off. The new president stated, “It’s not personal. I simply needed to stay on track with our agenda.” The new president was insecure about her ability to run a Board meeting and hid behind “Robert’s Rules of Order” as her excuse for not taking the time to truly listen to the new member and move concerns forward. Unfortunately, the conflict led to the new board member being perceived as a “difficult” person. This leads to resentment, and individuals and their respective companies questioning the value of their membership, and their investment of time and dollars.

 Suggestion 4: Build your reputation by handling the “elephants”

Not handling issues as they arise, or choosing to handle them by not talking about them, will eventually catch up with any organization. Those who either avoid the issue or insist on resolving it can be perceived as being difficult. The “elephant in the room” may not be an easy issue to address. Some may be in denial that the issue exists, and others may have very different opinions about what the real issue is. However, if everyone’s opinion is heard and everyone is truly listening, it’s amazing how utilizing “persuasive listening skills” can make a significant impact on moving an organization forward, and effectively resolving virtually any issue. Simple listening can counter the perception of someone being “difficult”.

One large association, many years ago, discovered at the last minute they were about to make the huge mistake of presenting an award to a person not eligible to receive it. They were in a quandary as to what to do, yet each person’s opinions were sought before a decision was made. They ultimately gave the award to the correct person. It was a hard decision with potentially significant ramifications; but it has not been mentioned since – because the potential “elephant” was handled effectively.

Suggestion 5: Handle change gracefully

Any effort to change can be a challenge when people wish to hang onto the past. Often, they understood how to use the old system, make it work, and ensure their company received the greatest benefit. To help association members understand how to incorporate changes, take time to get everyone on the same page. Provide background information supporting the need for change. “Sound like a parrot” by delivering a consistent message. Resolve any misunderstandings or lack of clarity as people voice their concerns or complaints. Don’t wait for them to be viewed as “difficult.”

What if all of these suggestions have been implemented, and someone is still considered difficult to work with?

 It’s time for with the executive director or Board president, and possibly another trusted Board member, to talk directly with the “difficult” person. Openly and positively hear what he or she has to say. At this point, you may find that this person may not be a good fit with the Board if his/her commitments are very different than the Board’s. If that is the case, make it a win-win by providing the opportunity for the Board member to resign. Make a public thank you for the person’s contributions, and move on. If all parties involved decide to keep the member on the Board, put together a plan to ensure success for everyone.


Associations face special challenges when it comes to filling important roles in their organizations. By creating a plan and taking a few simple steps to make sure the dynamics of the organization are being handled correctly, you can avoid falling into the trap of contributing to the creation of difficult people.

© Jeannette L. Seibly & John W. Howard, 2006

Jeannette L. Seibly, Principal of SeibCo — your partner in developing  work and career strategies for selection, results and growth, We improve your bottom line!   JLSeibly@gmail.com 

John W. Howard, Ph.D., owner of Performance Resources, Inc. helps businesses of all sizes increase their profits by reducing their people costs. His clients hire better, fire less, manage better, and keep their top performers.  jwh@prol.ws

Seven Basic Requirements for Working Effectively with Anyone!

1. Do what you say you’ll do, when you say you’ll do it. Apologize when you “drop the ball.”

 2. Take an interest in the company, people, product, financials, safety, community, etc. Get to know what is of interest and/or concern to the other people. And, be able to converse appropriately.

3. Respect everyone on the team regardless of his/her opinions and/or personality. Make it a habit to not to judge anyone regardless of their manner of dress, organizational style, position in a company, etc.

4. Be willing to acknowledge others. Make it a habit to say “Please” & “Thank You.”

 5. Take into account other people’s ideas and concerns when developing a solution. Remember KISS: keep your ideas simple & smart so that they can be easily understood.

 6. Truly listen for understanding. Be aware of how you normally listen. (Normally we listen to comment, to form an opinion, or we really don’t listen at all because we think we already know what they’re going to say.) Remember you’re non-verbal actions speak much louder than your words.

7. Keep confidences. Don’t talk negatively about other people. (Hint: it’s also known as gossiping)

(c)Jeannette L. Seibly, 2007

Jeannette Seibly is a nationally recognized coach, who has helped 1,000’s of people achieve unprecedented results.  She has created three millionaires.  You can contact her @ JLSeibly@gmail.com or http://SeibCo.com

Acclimating New Employees for Success

A new employee’s success has largely to do with how well they adjust to the company and its current workers, ethics, vision, mission and practices. As an employer, you have a responsibility to acclimate your new employees to ensure their and your success. Your current customers, vendors, and employees’ families benefit from your efforts to ensure new employees are well acclimated. When current employees become aware that things are not working, they often blame the company, and morale plummets.
 Hiring a person that will later need to be terminated, for any reason, is expensive. Conservatively speaking, the costs for hiring, training, supervising, liability, and all non-tangibles add up to over 38% of an employee’s annual salary. Therefore, it is critical that you set the stage for your new employees (and your company) to win.
Doing a great job of interviewing the person will not ensure the new person’s success unless you include an orientation program to acclimate them for success. Your company’s orientation process should clarify what the company does, how it does it, how people work together within the company, and the systems used internally and externally for delivery of products and services. It should include sharing the “social” norms and expectations employees, management and owners have of each other, including work ethic and level of integrity.
Orientation Programs

When most people start with a company, they are given lots of manuals and other written material to read and absorb. Unfortunately, most new employees will be unable or unwilling to read and fully understand them. Additionally, many are bored and disengaged in the process from the very beginning, because their primary learning style may not be reading based. Be aware that many company practices are often taken for granted by your current employees and not included in written form, making it difficult for new employees to understand exactly what you want.

The Basics of an Orientation Program

  • Have an orientation program that begins on the new employee’s first day
  • Be sure all paperwork is completed and introductions have been made
  • Set up lunches and/or meetings with key people that will be working with the new employee
  • Have video/DVD and written materials for the person to get “up to speed” on your products and/or services
  • Assign a trainer, mentor, or key person available for questions and clarification
  • Include programs for company etiquette, history, mission, values and communications
  • Review the Employee Handbook with them topic by topic; don’t rely on people reading something new and readily understanding how it works within your company
  • Have them spend time with key people in different departments, learning your company’s systems and how those systems can impact customers, internally and externally
  • Identify an individual for the new employee to ask questions, review how well they are doing, and discuss any problems they have encountered

After Three Months

Provide the employee with written feedback of his/her performance, including both areas that are working well and areas for improvement. For a new supervisor/manager/executive, have the work team participate in a 360-degree feedback program. Remember to keep specific respondent’s names confidential from their comments. Encourage the new supervisor/manager/executive to share specific areas of his/her feedback with the work group to better understand “what’s working” and “what’s not working.” These should also be shared with the mentor and boss to ensure they are on the same page. Establish goals, action plans and weekly/bi-weekly follow-up. Include training and development opportunities, self-study and group programs.

After Six Months

Time for more feedback using the same methodology that you used at the first three-month review. Review the goals you had established at three months and how well (or not) s/he progressed. Remember if the boss of the new person has done a good job, there should be no surprises as to how successful the person was in accomplishing these goals. Re-establish goals or refine the ones s/he is working on. Set up action plans and biweekly follow-up with the boss. Provide new training and development programs for success.

After One Year

Time for more feedback as well as clarity for the next year’s goals. Be sure this is an interactive process that meets the company’s needs as well as the person’s professional development.

Letting Them Go

Keeping a person that does not (or can not) fully handle all of their essential job responsibilities negatively impacts morale, customers, work systems, and your company’s reputation as an employer.

At anytime during this first year, or after, it may become necessary to terminate the person’s employment with your company. Be sure to document, review with your attorney and/or human resources professional, and handle immediately.

If you’ve done a great job of acclimating a new employee for success, everyone wins.

© Jeannette L. Seibly & John W. Howard, 2005

Jeannette Seibly, Principal of SeibCo — your partner in developing work and career strategies for selection, results and growth, We improve your bottom line!  jlseibly@gmail.com

John W Howard, Ph.D., owner of Performance Resources, Inc. helps businesses of all sizes increase their profits by reducing their people costs. His clients hire better, fire less, manage better, and keep their top performers. jwh@prol.ws

Are You Experiencing the Smart Rat Syndrome?

 We all have experienced this syndrome in our career or business–some people deal with it on a daily basis! 

  •  We want to make issues harder or more complicated than they are. 
  • We love to procrastinate until we are forced into action.  Then, we love to complain about being over-worked or blame others for making it so hard to get resolution.  
  • We find out that we mis-perceived the heart of the issue, if we are truthful with ourselves.  Instead of talking with the client or co-worker to understand their concern, we have a one-person conversation with ourselves and make it more complicated than it is.
  • We find excuses for not doing what we should.  Some small business owners or job seekers have been known to use the excuse of getting their taxes done instead of picking up the phone to talk to potential clients or employers! (Yes, this does happen).

Most people experiencing this “smart rat syndrome” simply love to over-analyze an idea, situation or action item to the point of inaction.  They rely on the voice inside of their head to make up a valid reason for not doing what they know needs to be done.  It saps their confidence to make a difference, and can derail their career or business if it happens too often, or with the wrong person!

Why?  We get caught up in our “excuses” as to why we don’t do what we need to do.  We fail to realize that in order to have ease and fun in our current job (a.k.a. job satisfaction), make more money, have a wonderful new job, client or promotion, or take advantage of a great opportunity — we need to take initiative and make things happen, now. 

 Yes, you will make some mistakes – particularly if you’re operating as a lone ranger and not willing to ask for help.  Making mistakes is human – to a point.  (Making the same ones over and over only means you are not coachable!)  Being focused on the amount of activity, and not on the results, means you are exhausted, or others are exhausted from watching you!

What are your excuses?  The most common are time and money.  However, we all have 24/7 and spend money on what we need.  (Think of all the shoes in your closet that have never been worn!  If you are not a shoe-aholic, think of your “passion.”)

Simple ways to break out of this smart rat syndrome are:

  • Put together a written goal and action plan for each item or idea.  When we write it down, it helps to clarify what we need to do and usually makes accomplishing the idea or project easier than what we imagined.
  • Then, take one action step within the next 24 hours and continue taking baby steps daily.  For those of you who are perfectionists, remember it will never be perfect enough.  For those of you who are indecisive, there will always be more information for or against something.  To stay out of these common traps, talk with a trusted advisor or co-worker to keep moving forward. 
  • Learn to trust yourself and the process of achieving great results.  Normally the process will not look like you think it should look!  Talk it out with your coach so that you don’t miss hidden opportunities.
  • On days that you feel overwhelmed, simply spend 20 minutes of focused energy on the task.  We all have parts of the job we hate to do. Handle only one item on the list, each day.  It builds confidence – I can do it and I do it!
  •  Handle issues quickly instead of allowing them to grow from small concerns to large insurmountable problems.  Stay out of the conversation going on inside of your head, and truly listen to what the other person is saying.  They will normally make it easier than you would.
  • Pick up the phone and have a conversation – don’t rely on email.  Most of you are not good enough writers so that others can readily understand your intentions.
  • Summarize your agreements with your client, co-worker or boss at the end of your conversation and recap them verbally.  Then, follow-up with an email within 24 hours with at least one action item completed.
  • Remember, when you change a system and don’t communicate it, you leave the other person wondering what you will do next.  Communicate any changes, even if they seem insignificant to you, and what the next steps will be.

When all else fails – contact your coach to resolve your issue or concern now!  (Yes, stop thinking about doing it!  And, stop using the excuse that I’m not sure what I should say!)


Jeannette Seibly has been a human performance coach for over 16 years, with over 30 years of corporate, small business and management experience.  She has an uncanny ability to help her clients identify roadblocks, and help them focus to produce unprecedented results.  Each client brings their own unique challenges, and her gift is helping each one create their success in their own unique way.  

Are You Ready for the New World of Work?

Are You Ready for the New World of Work?

 Regardless of your age, many workers will go through unemployment again in their lifetime.  Now is the time to learn lifelong skills on how to sell yourself and your value; and how to transfer your current skills into new opportunities and pursuits.

 We are now experiencing the start of a new world of work, again!  Back in the 90’s, changes started occurring much more rapidly than they had in the previous decades.  Now, it’s moving forward again.  Are you ready?  

Baby boomers, early in their careers, were willing to take risks, take a stand for what is right, and move heaven and earth to make it happen.  Then, they became older, and other priorities took over, e.g., kids, mortgages, retirement and caring for their parents. 

Then, the next generation of movers and shakers evolved (aka Generations X and Y) and their views of success are different.  They are not willing to settle for the old standards employers have used for too long to determine career paths, recognition and paychecks.  They look at risk taking as something they will do as long as there is a clear payback. 

The common denominator between all the generations:  most have not had to work to find their next job!

What is the major hindrance in finding the next job?  Attitudes!  Self talk and how we communicate with others limit the types of work and job challenges we are offered, and the corresponding paychecks.

 Regardless of your generation, there are three basic types of job seekers:

 1)  Do nothing and wait out the economy.  They are waiting for employers to call them.  (Hint:  It’s not going to happen.)  Your waiting will impact you professionally, and your family financially.  Many times your health and well-being can suffer, too.  Let go of the illusion that someone will serendipitously recognize your value by simply reading your resume and offer you your dream job. 

2)  Yeah, but’s.   They make luke-warm attempts at finding a job, and rely heavily upon resume blasts or support groups to talk about finding a job.  While support groups can be great in helping people, unless they are results-focused they will unconsciously reinforce the “I won’t do it” mentality that often limits job seekers (e.g., won’t relocate, won’t work in a different industry or profession, will stay unemployed so children can keep their current friends, will keep relying solely on blasting out resumes, etc.)

 3)  I’m the one!  They have an attitude that says, “I’m career directed, job fit ready and open to transition out of my old career path when it is no longer working.”  They realize the only limiting factor is how they view themselves, and they create positive self talk.

 These job seekers are open to effectively exploring, investigating and educating themselves so that they can communicate their value to their next boss!  They do not rely upon past job titles and job responsibilities – they have taken the time to clarify who they are, their inherent strengths and weaknesses and how to communicate these traits effectively.  They are ready for the new world of work.

 They effectively use their network to market themselves using voice-to-voice conversations to elicit the best of others’ ideas and opinions, which goes beyond tweeting, and posting requests on their Facebook, MySpace or LinkedIn pages.

As a result, they are the first to learn about the myriad of new opportunities being created throughout the world due to new businesses, industries, inventions, and professions; and unadvertised job openings (an estimated 90% of all openings!). 

Their focus is to find a job that matches their goals and provides job fit–now and in the future.  So they prepare great questions to ensure clarity about the company’s direction, and how the company envisions their path for success.  They are comfortable saying, “No, thanks.” to job offers, when they are clear it won’t work.

 Are you ready for the new world of work? 

About the author:  Jeannette Seibly is a nationally recognized coach, who has helped 1000’s of people achieve unprecedented results.  She has created three millionaires.  You can contact her:  JLSeibly@gmail.com OR http://SeibCo.com

 (C)Jeannette L. Seibly, 2009