Seren Trewavas, consultant at Sheppard Moscow, a change management consultancy, says that one way that heads of internal audit can address this problem is to hold people accountable for their behaviour – and not just their results. “Behaviour with colleagues is a critical part of competence and overall performance. If the organisation has a competency framework then this can be helpful in providing a language with which to discuss these matters, and also provide an organisational point of reference,” she says.
Trewavas also says that managers should be specific about the impact of particular behaviours rather than make personal judgements and accusations. “Behavioural observations are subjective, not objective, and trying to make claims about what is true or false, right or wrong is an argument you’ll never win,” says Trewavas. “Specify what the person has done and how it made you feel. Avoid blame,” she says.
Trewavas adds that often someone has been labelled as difficult, when actually his or her behaviour is being interpreted as such in a given context. “Rather than leaping in to assign blame, explore the full dynamics of the situation. Their behaviour may seem more reasonable to you when you understand the influencing factors, and what you thought was the problem may actually be a red herring,” she says.
“Many difficulties between people occur because there have been misinterpretations about the intent behind each other’s behaviour. A leader can play a useful role in providing the conditions and the frameworks for people to explore these differences in a constructive way,” she adds.
Trewavas points out that often people may be expressing fear, anxiety, insecurity, or anger in an inappropriate way, and that they may need some coaching on how to be assertive and responsive rather than aggressive or passive. “Good relationships are not defined by a superficial ‘niceness’ and constant harmony. Conflict is often necessary, healthy and creative. Before deciding whether something or someone is a problem it is worth questioning your own assumptions about and level of comfort with conflict,” she says.
Trewavas also warns that there is a danger that if someone is difficult, their behaviour may prevent them from getting any praise or valuing of their contribution at all from others. They also may make it hard for others to listen to them, and that may make them even more “difficult.”
“Resist reacting to the presenting behaviour and look beyond this,” says Trewavas. “Find out and respond to what is really driving them. Remember to acknowledge the good stuff.”
Another point that heads of internal audit should bear in mind is that they should not be the constant point of call for dealing with internal arguments. Trewavas says that managers should encourage team members to feed back to each other in an adult-to-adult fashion rather than adopting the role of trouble shooter and giving feedback second hand. “It is far better for team members to own their own feedback,” she says.