Published: 14/03/2002, Volume II2, No. 5796 Page 30 31

Dealing with Difficult People By Roy Lilley

Publisher: Kogan Page.

ISBN: 079436913. 158 pages.£7.99 (paperback).

For the five HSJ readers who haven't heard of the author: he's a spare-time magician.He must be to cover 'manage conflict successfully, motivate the poor performers, recognise the different types and handle aggression' in 150 pages.And after lunch. . . ?

The book says itself that it is not meant to be read from cover to cover. It is a book 'to dip into'.And just like a bag of Harry Potter's magical Bertie Bott's every-flavour beans, it is not until you dip in and take a nibble that know what you have got.Try eating the whole lot in one go and you will get not try it - I did.But dip in and There is a wondrous world of possibilities to explore.

Your first dip could reveal a tasty morsel - like Bertie's chocolate and peppermint- flavoured bean.The chapters on complaints and meetings should be required reading for all NHS workers.

Less lucky, and you could get a sprout-flavoured bean - good for you, but dull: the chapter on handling aggressive people, or the 'fast track' two pages on handling conflict.

If you are really unlucky you will get Bertie's spinach and liver-flavoured bean.The attempt to describe seven (going on 18) 'classically difficult types' is pure nonsense and guaranteed to make you sick.By the time you have tried assessing your 'difficult person', you'll have long forgotten why on earth you ever found them difficult in the first place.

The good news is that the book is full of practical tips on responding to everyday difficult situations - try saying this, try doing that.

The bad news is that the showmanship can get in the way of the message.Phrases like 'putting a bomb under the lazy ones'or 'staff to strangle'grab your attention - but are they really consistent with a productive approach?

The other good news is that below the glibness There is an approach rooted in learning to release people's potential.

'At the centre of it all are the people. . understanding why they act as they do.'

'[Perhaps] there are no bad staff, just poorly performing managers?'

'If you get to the mind-set where criticism is as valuable to you as a compliment, You have cracked it.'

Also, the emphasis throughout is on focusing on the behaviour (and the facts and evidence), rather than the personal.

So buy the book.Test it on the difficult person you know best (yes - you) and dip into your own behaviours (ask your colleagues).Then try it on whoever upset you yesterday, read the chapters on complaints and meetings, and keep it next to your desk.

But then read two other books to fill the gaps.For an undiluted appreciation of the power of treating people as adults: Ricardo Semler's Maverick! And to discover how to handle conflict through ethical negotiating: Vanessa Help's Negotiating: everybody wins.

Then just do it.

Maverick! By Richard Semler.

Publisher: Random House Business Books, 2001.

ISBN: 0712678867. 332 pages.£7.99.

Negotiating: everybody wins . By Vanessa Helps. Publisher: BBC Consumer Publishing (February 1992). ISBN: 0563362898. 144 pages. Out of print; secondhand offers on www. amazon. com.