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Dealing with difficult people: an interview with Karen Mannering


Interview by: Debbie Hepton

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Karen ManneringKaren Mannering is the Director of K M Portfolios Ltd., a development consultancy providing facilitation, training (design and delivery), coaching, writing and psychometrics.

Karen has over 20 years experience in people development, working with large organizations, universities and colleges. She has a MA in Management and a BSc in Psychology.  She a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personal Development, a Member of the Chartered Management Institute, and a graduate member of the British Psychological Society. 

A registered psychometric practitioner, Karen is licensed to use a number of psychometric instruments to enrich individual development, selection practices, and provide meaningful feedback.  She is also registered to provide the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and BarOn EQI, which she incorporates into her developmental work.

A speaker at a number of conferences, Karen also writes for magazines, journals (including Croner publishing), and websites.  She has also written several books including, Staying Ahead, How to Manage Difficult People, and Thrive and Survive the 9-5.

Her latest book is titled Instant Manager: Dealing with Difficult People and has been commissioned by the Chartered Management Institute.  Karen has been quoted several times in The Times and The Guardian, and has been the “expert editor” for several professional books written by other authors.

DH: Hello, and welcome to Emerald Management First. Can you tell us about your latest book, Instant Manager: Dealing with Difficult People?

Karen Mannering:

As we become more technological in all areas of our lives, we seem to find it more difficult to deal with many of the human interactions that underpin society.  There have been huge increases in workplace angst and the mushrooming of the mediation business is testament to the fact that there are problems there. 

This is coupled with the fact that we are now in a very difficult financial period – people cannot afford to just move jobs if they are unhappy – they need to find coping mechanisms.  This is what I hope to address with my latest book.  I wanted a practical book that offers the reader a range of options and solutions.

DH: You also wrote Managing Difficult People back in 2000, how does this book differ from your latest one, and how have your views changed in those eight years?

Karen Mannering:

Managing Difficult People was hugely successful and sold all over the world (perhaps there is a message there for anyone who feels that this situation is “just them”).  I believe it remains very relevant, however, since writing Managing Difficult People I have been on my own mission of self development.  I have spent six years studying psychology and human interaction, and I wanted to integrate my findings into this new book.

DH: It has been said that “difficult people are just different and have formed behaviours that are different to your own.” How do you define a difficult person?

Karen Mannering:

A difficult person is anyone with whom you have a difficultly.  It does not have to be traditionally negative behaviour; some people can annoy you with over-kindness and sympathy. 

“…listen to people, and show them that you are listening.  Everyone wants to be heard and their feelings validated.”

We have to accept that we all have it within us to be difficult people at some point in our lives, which is why one chapter of the book focuses on “what if the difficult person is you?”  The answer is often in the dynamic, after all, you cannot be difficult on your own!

DH: What key advice can you give on how to deal with difficult employees or colleagues?

Karen Mannering:

If I need to limit it to just one piece of advice, I would say listen to people, and show them that you are listening.  Everyone wants to be heard and their feelings validated.

DH: Can you tell us briefly about Karen Mannering Portfolios (KMP) and the work you do?

Karen Mannering:

Karen Mannering Portfolios is a division of KMP Ltd.  It is a consultancy that specializes in people development.  Essentially it has five foci:

  1. Training – providing both bespoke and off-the-shelf training solutions
  2. Consultancy – working with organizations to create specific outcomes (also including staff investigations and mediation)
  3. Writing – books, journal features and general features
  4. Psychometrics – personality profiling and team profiling
  5. Coaching – providing a range of coaching interventions, including Hypno-coaching

My website is and I am currently building a new site that will offer tips and tricks to those who register.  As a first offer for those who register I am offering a free short report “Fast help with tough teams.”  If you would like a copy of this report, please e-mail me at [email protected]

DH: KMP offers both Belbin assessments and Belbin e-interplace. Can you explain what these are?

Karen Mannering:

Often a very positive way of helping a team deal with their difficulties is to focus on difference.  All teams need a range of skills and people, playing different roles.  Very often in recognizing that difference we can see how everyone had a gift to give the team; a unique role they fulfil. 

Belbin is one of the largest providers of team measures and e-interplace is an electronic version of their questionnaire that provides an individual report, and team report to aid analysis of team dynamics.

DH: What are the advantages and disadvantages of Belbin profiling?

Karen Mannering:

The main advantage is that it celebrates difference and allows everyone to see the benefits of having so many different people in a team.  There are very few disadvantages, other than it is a framework for discussing behaviour, a little like looking through a microscope to see more clearly – not a quick-fix in itself.  Staff behaviours still need to be addressed.

DH: KMP also utilizes the Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI). What is the difference between this and Belbin profiling? Can they be used in conjunction with one another?

Karen Mannering:

MBTI is a psychometric that I use primarily for individual development.  It is very supportive and enables the individual to recognize their strengths and see areas where they can develop.  MBTI can also be used with teams as there is an element of how other types see us, in the same way as there is with Belbin.  However, I would not use the two together as they measure against different scales and this could cause confusion.  It is better to select the correct tool for the specific incident.

DH: You also use personality profiling and emotional intelligence assessments. Can you tell us about that?

Karen Mannering:

As I have a background in psychology, profiling has become more interesting to me.  There is so much about people that we cannot measure and yet we need to have some tangible way of either selecting people or finding out more about how they “tick” in a very short space of time.  For me, psychometrics do this brilliantly.  Basically they are questionnaires that allow the individual to answer in a number of ways.

“…in times of difficulty there is a temptation for organizations to cut training and development.  I believe this is a big mistake.”

A great deal of work and many years goes into the design of the top psychometrics, and there is now a wide range that measure everything from personality of individuals and teams to creativity.  I trained in the BarOn EQi for emotional intelligence because, again, all my work is centred around development.  The level of our ability to communicate, work with others and form relationships is the key to future work.

DH: How can an organization best apply these tools?

Karen Mannering:

By speaking with a professional – either a psychologically trained development specialist or an occupational psychologist.

DH: The majority of your work has been within HR, both in the public and private sectors.  Have you noticed any major differences between the two sectors?

Karen Mannering:

Not as much as everyone would believe.  The public sector is very cutting edge these days, but they move very slowly.  Their democratic decision making means that they have to hold many meetings, consult widely and take everyone’s views into account.  This takes time and makes them less immediate.  There is also the problem that any major decisions have to go before a council meeting, whereas in the private sector the decision can be taken there and then.

DH: In your opinion what are the key benefits of executive coaching?

Karen Mannering:

I believe the key benefits of coaching come from its ability to totally personalize the interaction and also the focus.  In a one-to-one situation you can both focus on the client and how they can achieve what they want.  I undertake hypnotic coaching which is where suggestions around achievement can be totally embedded in the subconscious.  I find that it brings more powerful and faster results.

DH: Of all the organizations that you have worked with for training and coaching, does one case stand out more than others as the most successful? Why is this?

Karen Mannering:

I would not like to say one particular company but I think that in times of difficulty there is a temptation for organizations to cut training and development.  I believe this is a big mistake.  The most successful companies are those who re-visit their training and development options for staff, and re-design rather than crop. 

So many staff have reported on polls that they consider development to be not only a benefit but also the indication of a top company.  It is an aspect that will make people stay with an employer, and all organizations want key staff to stay with them in these difficult days.

January 2009.

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Dealing with difficult people: an interview with Karen Mannering