The Center for Association Resources


Is an association management firm focused on helping Non-Profit associations succeed in their mission.

Working with difficult people in non-profit associations

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Working with difficult people is more or less an unavoidable part of life in general. And this problem can present unique challenges in the business world. When it comes to the management of a business, there are bound to be difficult people at all steps during the process – Whether it is an angry, frustrated customer, or a ruthless, uncompromising board member. Difficult people are everywhere, and a successful leader should know how to work with them. The management of a nonprofit organization is certainly not exempt from the rule. Successfully running a nonprofit firm will include the unpleasant task of working with difficult people.

Perhaps you have a board member who makes a habit of being difficult. The first step to take in order to remedy the problem is to try to get to the source of the conflict. Why is the person being difficult; or, more accurately, why do you (and others) perceive them as being difficult? It is important as a manager or co-worker to put yourself in the person’s shoes. Are they being stubborn or strong-headed? Perhaps they simply feel that the job at hand is not being done properly, and are trying to get everyone else back on track. Are they being whiny or non-responsive? Perhaps they feel outnumbered, and are too reluctant to offer their own dissenting opinion when they feel that everyone else is against them. Understanding the difficult person’s viewpoint will help you to approach them without making them feel threatened or disliked.

If a difficult board member is posing too serious of a problem to the organization’s health, it may be time to develop a strategy to limit their impact or even remove them from the board. Check your firm’s bylaws for procedures regarding the removal of a board member; many bylaws will require a unanimous vote from the other board members. Whatever you do, do not violate your own organization’s bylaws, or you can be sure the offended person will pursue legal action. It is also an option to try to get the person to hand in their resignation.

Managers of nonprofit firms will likely not only have to work with difficult board members; they may also encounter difficult donors and volunteers. When dealing with a difficult donor, it is still important to try to approach the situation from their viewpoint, all while remembering your organization cannot function without the generosity of outside donors. The importance of trying not to trample on people’s egos should not be underestimated. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to certain aspects of a donor’s request for the use of the money if you feel they would compromise the vision of the organization. Try to make the difficult donor understand why you have a disagreement with them, while always remembering to speak in the positive. For instance: don’t negatively criticize the donor’s request, but instead talk positively about your organization’s goals, and explain why you think the donor’s goals might not be aligned properly with the organization’s.

Dealing with difficult volunteers is another problem that may arise. Again, it is always important to try to make sure the volunteer understands the company’s vision, and why their behavior may be compromising that vision. They would not be volunteering at your organization if they did not care about the work you do. If the situation cannot be resolved, it is always an option to politely tell the volunteer that they won’t be able to work with your organization in the future.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Non-Profit, Planning, Strategic Planning, Strategy, The Center for Assocation Resources info, Training, , , , ,

Working with difficult people

Another in a series of articles related to association management selected from our reading list by:
Robert O. Patterson, JD
CEO/ Principal
The Center for Association Resources, Inc.

Difficult people are everywhere.  Our homes, our neighborhoods, our families and at work.  Eventually, a challenging employee or co-worker will eventually find their way into your non-profit organization.  Learning how to handle them and to redirect them in a positive way can save a great deal of time, trouble and wasted resources.

First of all, there are plenty of things NOT to do, when it comes to a challenging person.  Don’t ignore threatening or abusive behavior.  Don’t ignore the problem and hope that it goes away.  It won’t and chances are, others are having similar issues.  Don’t use anonymous or veiled methods of dealing with the problem, such as notes or shunning.  They’ll only serve to alienate the person and make the situation that much worse.  Dealing with the situation, head on, in a positive way can not only solve the problem, but build an environment of trust and respect among colleagues.

The first aspect to look at, when determining how to work with a difficult person is what is making them difficult.  Are they constantly talking over others?  Are they reluctant to really get involved in their work?  Do they have problems working with certain types of people?  Do they need to be in charge, or the center of attention?  Understanding that these behaviors have underlying drives can assist in finding ways to not only neutralize the difficult behavior, but often turn that energy into a positive force.  Those people who need to be in charge can be given a small leadership position, whether it’s managing an outreach project or being in charge of organizing the supply closet.  Giving them a task that they can be in charge of and be recognized for, takes away the challenge and turns it into a positive.

If the difficulties lie in behavior, pulling the person aside and calmly stating your issues can go a long way to fostering an understanding about what is and is not appropriate.  For a serial interrupter, explaining that being interrupted makes you feel as if your contributions aren’t important and asking to be heard will let your colleague know how their behavior is impacting you.  It’s very important to use “I” statements and to avoid accusing the other person of wrongdoing.  “When I’m interrupted during a meeting, I feel as if my ideas aren’t valued.  I would really appreciate being able to finish sharing my ideas, before others discuss them” will go much further toward fostering an environment of understanding than: “You’re always interrupting me and you don’t value my ideas!”  Discussing potentially sensitive topics with understanding and respect can turn an argument into an enriching experience.

Even the most irritating people are with your non-profit for a reason.  They chare the same concern, passion and ideals that you do.  Finding common ground and turning finding ways to use everyone’s talents, to their fullest, will benefit everyone, from the organization, to coworkers, to the irritating person themselves.

Filed under: Association Resources, Center for Association Resources, Leadership, Non-Profit, Strategic Planning, Strategy, Training, , , , ,

March 2020

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