Dealing with Difficult Staff at Your Medical Practice

October 29, 2014

Here are four common difficult personality types you may have as employees at your medical practice and how to deal with them.

You've all worked with them at one time or another; and it's likely that many of you are working with them right now: difficult people.

They take a toll on your attitude, career satisfaction, and even your productivity. A 2008 study conducted by research firm CCP, Inc., which produces the Myers-Briggs personality assessment test, found that most employees spend nearly three hours per week dealing with workplace conflict.

The good news, however, is that though difficult personality types and the conflicts associated with them are unavoidable, there are ways managers can effectively deal with them and reduce the associated frustration.

That's according to Laura Palmer, an industry analyst at the Medical Group Management Association (MGMA), who presented a session fittingly entitled, "Dealing with Difficult People," at the organization's annual conference in Las Vegas on Tue. Oct. 28.

"As human beings, managers, as subordinates, we are all going to run into situations that are challenging and [where] we have to deal with difficult people," said Palmer. During her session, she identified four common difficult behavior types, and some of her tips regarding how managers can deal with each of them more effectively.

1. The Clingers
These are the people in your practice who cling to you "like Velcro," said Palmer. They may not want to take on additional responsibilities, they don't leave you alone, and they struggle to work independently. The more capable and strong you appear, the clingier they will become.
How to deal: When dealing with these personalities, direct rejection does not work well, said Palmer. "...They are going to ignore a polite 'no.'" To better deal with these individuals, give them some additional responsibilities. Though they may reject your request, stand firm and offer to help walk them through the new responsibility at the outset. However, after that, make it clear that they will need to complete it on their own. At this point, the individual will either rise to the occasion, or he will walk away, said Palmer.

2. The Controllers
Controlling personalities always need to be right, said Palmer. They "won't back down even though you give them evidence that they are wrong." They believe they can always do a better job than you, and they always find something to criticize, she said.
How to deal: Make it clear that you aren't intimidated by the individual. "You really need to stand up for yourself, because at the core of this controlling behavior is insecurity," said Palmer. Defend your approach, course of action, or judgment and don't change your plan to adhere to the controller's demands. If faced with a confrontation with a controlling individual, approach it in a calm and rational way, she said.

3. The Competitors 
These individuals always seek to put down others to get ahead of you. For example, they may talk over you in meetings, or speak badly about you in front of superiors and colleagues.
How to deal: As hard as it may be, consider whether it's worth letting these individuals "win." This will help them show "generosity" toward you and therefore it will boost their self-ego and self-image and they may back off, said Palmer.
If you are faced with a confrontation with one of these individuals, stay calm, be steadfast, and try not to show emotion, she said. If necessary, set up a reasonable argument based on facts. In most cases, if they realize they are losing the argument, they will likely ask if they can get back to you later with their thoughts. "Give them some space to let them get away with an out and you'll bring that intensity down," said Palmer.

4. The Unpredictables
These individuals go to extraordinary lengths to be difficult, said Palmer. They may be extremely demanding, suddenly change goals or assignments to keep things off kilter, and so on. "The underlying message here is that unless you agree with me and you go along with it, you'll regret it," said Palmer. "There's going to be payback."
How to deal: Controllers are not likely to change their behavior, so you must determine how to adapt to them in a way that works for you, said Palmer. Whatever you do, don't mimic their behavior, and step away from confrontations with them if necessary. "Getting yourself out of that situation sometimes will decrease the intensity of that argument or the confrontation," she said.

For 10 tips to better manage conflict at your practice, read "Ten Conflict Management Tips for Medical Practices."