Mark McPherson | Topics
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Mark’s topics

I help CEOs, Managers, Business Owners, Consultants and their Staff get the best possible behaviour, communication and performance from people. And I do it by speaking, training and coaching about how to:

Master Tough Conversations

– because sometimes you need to speak up and say what needs to be said (read more);


Deal with Difficult People

– because sometimes people don’t do ‘the right thing’ and you need to do something about it (read more);


Have people always put their best foot forward 

– because for some people it simply doesn’t come naturally (read more).


Maybe you’re talking Leadership, Management, The future of work, Customer service or Human relationships but it doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter because these are only the frameworks into which these topics neatly fit.


As well as the 3 topics above, I have have some other topics as well. They’re also important but they serve a different need and purpose. Here they are.: XX


How to build better relationship with the art of REAL-FLAIR.


The Learning and Development Dilemma: Use what works best, or go with what’s popular?


How to use the Advanced Role-Play Technique: Agent Provocateur Role-Plays. 


In case you want to know: Why these topics?

Sometimes people ask me why I chose these particular topics to speak, train and coach about? So here’s quick answer. First, I really care about them. They’re close to my heart. And second, and I know this is bold but here goes, I really know about them.


I’ve had plenty of experience with them – more than 40 years worth;

I love learning about them – through formal education, private study and generally keeping up-to-date;  and

I think deeply and critically about them – I like to ask the hard questions about them and like to look closely at everything I see, hear and read about them (and that includes everything that comes from me).

How to Master Tough Conversations

and get the best possible result for all concerned.

Let’s face it. Some conversation are tough.

Most conversations are easy. We talk. We ask questions and we give answers. We exchange information. And we share ideas. They’re easy, simple and straightforward. But now for the bad news. Some conversations aren’t easy. In fact, they’re tough.


Some conversations are tough to think about let alone actually have. They can be tough to get started, tough to keep civil and tough to keep on track. And some are tough when it comes to getting a good outcome. In short, some conversations are difficult, frustrating and even upsetting – or at least we think they’ll be. So it’s no wonder we sometimes put them off – and sometimes for way too long.


But like it or not, we have to have them.

If we don’t have the tough conversations we need to have, and have them when we should, we’re making a big mistake. Yes, we can sweep them under the carpet for a while. And yes we can pretend everything will blow over eventually. But guess what? More often than not, the need for them doesn’t go away. In fact, the need for them usually increases and we can easily find ourselves having them when we’re least prepared and at the worst possible time.


So we need to have them. But more importantly, we need to handle them well. If we don’t, we can actually do more harm than good. We can even go backwards. We can: look bad; lose support; lower our morale and other people’s morale as well; damage relationships; and even damage the business. So what do we need to do?


To get the best possible result, we need to Take Control of them.

What we need to do is Take Control of our Tough Conversations. And this is exactly what I help you do. I help you:


1. Know what we’re dealing with.

Differentiate between the four main types of Tough Conversations and understand why each one needs to be treated differently.  Knowing the four types is crucial but usually overlooked or not even known about.


Avoid the 3 main mistakes people make when having Tough Conversations. Sadly, these mistakes are common and so common that many in the business of helping us handle tough conversations actually make them themselves.


2. Take Control of the:

I.    Conditions.

We need to start by taking control of the conditions as much as is practicable, in which you’ll have the conversation. Sounds basic doesn’t it? Well yes, but there’s more to it than many realise.


II.   Scripts.

This is vital but it’s not hard. I have plenty of them developed for you already but we’ll work together to develop more and then tailor them and personalise them to suit your particular needs.


III.  Deliveries.

I say ‘deliveries’ because first you need to practice so you get the delivery right, and second because it’s not uncommon for a Tough Conversation to need to be delivered more than once.


3. Follow-up.

After we’ve had a Tough Conversation, we need to follow it up. Although it probably sounds pretty basic, it’s surprising how many people don’t do it. We need to follow it up to make sure, for example, agreements have been followed, decisions are implemented, we identify and deal with any unwanted side-effects or repercussions, and our emotional well-being is in check.


So if you, your colleagues or your staff have to …


Conduct a performance review or similar, in which you want the person to listen, and I mean really listen.  Pull someone into line and tell them to ‘lift their game’ but not alienate them.  Handle an annoying customer but at the same time, deliver great customer service.  Talk to someone about their personal hygiene.  Give someone some bad news.  Speak to a manager about an unreasonable workload or a perceived injustice.  Say no to sexual harassment.  Deal with someone who interrupts, criticises or mocks.  Lay down the law and tell someone they’re treading on thin ice.  Tell someone that you find their comments unacceptable and you want them to ‘stop’.


… then you’ve come to the right place.


If you’d like to talk to me about how I might be able to help, please just go to my Contact page.  But just before you go, here’s a short video of me explaining how I can help you Master Tough Conversations. All the very best, Mark.


How to Deal With Difficult People

and do it effectively, efficiently and ethically.

A new approach was needed – one that worked. 

Existing material had 2 major faults.

I was first asked to run programs on how to deal with difficult people more than a dozen years ago. And I’ve been pretty much doing it ever since. And I love it.


But here’s the thing. When I was first asked, I thought it would be incredibly easy. After all, I had plenty of experience in putting an end to bad behaviour and dealing with difficult people. I’d done the hard yards and knew what worked and what didn’t. And there was lots of material I could use as a base. There was lots of books, articles and podcasts. And of course, there was also the internet. But now for the bad news. The material wasn’t very good.


Yes, that was bold. But it’s true. And it’s why I developed my own material and my own approach. But before we go any further, I know some of you want to know what was wrong with the material I found. So here goes.


Fault 1.

The material had two major faults. The first was some of it took the approach of: ‘Here are the types and here are the strategies to go with each’. So if you had a difficult person to deal with, you’d have to first work out if they matched one of the types on offer or not and second, if they did, you’d have to become familiar with the relevant strategies and implement them.

Now there’s several problems with this. But one of them isn’t that types don’t exist. They most certainly do. In fact, I’ve documented 52 types of difficult people and a few sub-types as well. And written about most them in my blogs. But because people continue to tell me about more and more types, or at least variations on the ones I’ve documented, I’ve probably only hit the tip of the iceberg.


So the first problem is ‘our difficult person’ mightn’t be among the types given. And when that’s the case, we can do one of three things. We can look elsewhere and hope we’ll be luckier with the next book or article we pick up. We can leave it and continue to put up with ‘our difficult person’. Or we can go with a type that’s somewhat like ‘our difficult person’ but not quite. Unfortunately, none of these options are very good. With the third option for example, not only do we end up using strategies which don’t properly fit our needs, we can end up using strategies which are counter-productive.


The second problem with this approach is many difficult people aren’t ‘a type’. They’re either a mixture of two or more types or are different types on different occasions. Let’s face it, many difficult people can be demanding, upfront and pushy one day, stabbing you in the back quietly behind the scenes the next and then crying ‘woe is me’ and pleading with you a day later. Their ability to be more than just one type is one of the many reasons so many difficult people are …. well …. so darn difficult.


But it gets worse. What strategies are potentially useful depend greatly on things like our relationship to ‘our difficult person’ and the context in which we deal with them. What strategies might be useful for ‘our difficult person’ when they’re someone at work, for example, would surely be different to those that might be useful if they’re someone at home, someone from our social club or our neighbour. And if they’re at work, what strategies might be useful if they’re someone we manage would surely be different to what might useful if they’re a colleague on an equal level, someone who manages us, a customer, a supplier or just someone from another organisation with whom we have to communicate every now and then.


Some authors have tried to get around these problems by giving us lots of different types, by giving us some different possible relationships we might have with each type, or by doing both. But unfortunately this still doesn’t cut it. (If you’d like to know why, please drop me a line.)


Okay. That’s quite a lot about the approach based on types. My apologies but I think it’s important. Many people are still using this approach and it’s a huge mistake.


Fault 2.

The second major fault I found was many of the suggested strategies were simply not very useful. For example, some strategies were:

Not very good per se.

Lacking in the necessary detail to make them effective. For example, it’s fine to tell us we should talk to our boss if we feel they’ve treated us unfairly. But it’s not fine to not be also told exactly what to say, in what order to say it and what to do with our face, hands and body while we’re doing it.

Based on beliefs about the motives and underlying psychological traits behind the different types of difficult behaviour which could not be substantiated and in some cases were pure guesswork. The main problem here is if the suggested strategies are based on erroneous beliefs, then using the strategies could do more harm than good.  Unnecessarily and strangely complicated.

Unnecessarily complicated and therefore unlikely to work.


Consequently, I devised my own approach to dealing with difficult people. One which was straightforward and logical. One which was down-to-earth and realistic.


My approach is fresh, realistic and works.

My Speaking, Training and Coaching on How to Deal with Difficult People, has 5 key components. The 5 components are:


1.  Real Life Scenarios.

Too often, trainers use examples, case studies and scenarios which are far removed from the real world of the participants. And sometimes, they’re the same old ones they’ve dragged out time and time again. Consequently, the participants – the very people they’re trying to help – don’t get much out of them. It’s lazy, but worse still, it’s not good for the participants. Of course, most participants are polite and they’ll sit there and look interested. But nonetheless, they end up wasting  their valuable time.

So instead, I use Real Life Scenarios. These are real scenarios from the real life experiences of the participants. I collect them before and/or during the speaking, training or coaching program so they are fresh and meaningful. Of course, using Real Life Scenarios is way harder than just using the same ones over and over, but it’s also way more rewarding.


2.  A three-pronged realistic approach.

I.   Nail the violation.

It doesn’t actually matter what type we think a difficult person is. The real issue is: What has this person done wrong? What standard of behaviour have they broken? What is their infringement? The real issue is not that a person was rude, belligerent, nasty, a tyrant, or whatever. The real issue is first, their actual behaviour. The real issue is, for example, the person: swore at you three times twice using the F word; told you were an idiot and they’d like to punch you in the face; described you using demeaning and racist language; etc. and second, the real issue is that such behaviour is unacceptable, inappropriate, against the law, against the policies and procedures, or whatever.


II.   Tailor the strategies.

I’ve produced a list of top strategies for dealing with bad behaviour and difficult people. They are realistic and down-to-earth. More importantly, they work. And I know because I’ve tried them.

But having said that, they need to be tailored to fit people’s particular circumstances such as their Real Life Scenarios.

For example, although I might provide the FEWER Script as a base for telling someone their behaviour is unacceptable (from Nailing The Violation), telling them what behaviour you want from them in the future and telling them what rewards (or punishments) might be forthcoming, I work with people to tailor the script to their particular needs.


III.  Personalise your approach.

Once we’ve tailored the strategies, I provide a somewhat formal decision-making process so we can determine for ourselves what strategies (and what combinations of strategies) should be used when formal. This process takes into account things like: our intended outcome; our fallback position if we have one; our power because if we are realistic, what power we have and don’t have very much determines what action will take.


3.  Agent Provocateur Role-Plays and it’s larger cousin Real Life Rehearsals.

It’s fantastic to end up with a set of realistic, tailored and personalised strategies. But what’s also needed are the skills and confidence to deliver them in the real world. So what we need to do is to practice. But not just practice. We need to practice in conditions which are near as practicable to the real world conditions in which the strategies will have to be delivered.


And that’s why I don’t use what I call traditional or old-style role-plays. I use something better. Something more advanced. I use agent provocateur role-plays. These are necessary to help people be able to successfully deal with difficult people in the real world because that’s where it counts.


So there you have it. I had to develop my own material, and I’m really glad I did.  But before you go, here’s a short video of me explaining a few things about my approach to helping you deal with difficult People. Enjoy.

Download a free one-page brochure for 

How to Create Workplaces where People Put their Best Foot Forward

and work together in harmony.

There’s a major issue we need to deal with.


The world’s getting more and more complex. Not less. It means we’re having to work together more and more to solve problems more complex than we could ever imagine.


And we have to be brilliant at it. Our ability to work together is probably the most important capability we could develop as individuals, teams and organisations. But there’s a problem. A challenge if you like. And it’s this.


Not all humans are good at working together. There are too many of them who don’t seem to have a decent filter. Who don’t seem to know what’s acceptable and what’s not. Who think their comfort and their rights are all that matters – and the rest of us can go and get lost. There are 3 major dynamics going on which have allowed some humans to act like this and they are:


Dynamic 1. The pursuit of happiness.


There’s nothing wrong with being happy. Of course not. And let’s not forget, it’s one of the unalienable rights sitting proudly in the United States Declaration of Independence.


But being happy is one thing. Only caring about yourself being happy is another. Sadly, there’s a bunch of people around who’ve become very self-absorbed. They’re not so much into ‘the pursuit of happiness’ as into ‘the pursuit of themselves’.


Dynamic 2: The defence of free speech.

Then there are those who think it’s okay to say whatever they like. And to whom they like and whenever they like. They like to express themselves without any boundaries. And they like to excuse themselves because they’re just ‘exercising their right to free speech’.


Now don’t get me wrong. I like free speech. It’s a good thing. But it doesn’t mean you can be mean, nasty degrading, sexist or whatever and just brush it off by saying everyone has a right to their own opinion.


Yes, everyone has a right to their own opinion but only up to a point. Freedom of speech doesn’t mean ‘say whatever you feel like and if someone takes offence, well it’s their fault for being too sensitive or whatever’. There are limits to free speech and some people just don’t seem to get it.


Dynamic 3: Labelling.

Some people aren’t good at working together with others because they’re way too quick to put labels on others. They’re not necessarily being nasty. They’re not necessarily trying to put anyone down. But nonetheless, the labels are at best unhelpful, and at worst destructive.


In some cases, these labellers actually think they know what’s going on in someone’s head. They actually think they know what someone’s motives are, underlying psychopathology is or whatever. But surprise surprise; they’re rarely, if ever, in any sort a position to rightly know.


In other cases, these labellers simply tag people with derogatory terms. For example, these are the sort of people who’ll label a female staff member as pushy or an upstart when all she’s done is speak up at a staff meeting in exactly the same way as her male colleague have done.


Then there’s the rest of us.

And last but not least, there’s the rest of us. We’re not bad people. We know right from wrong and where fair, honest and compassionate. But here’s the thing: we’re busy. And it means despite our best intentions, we can all get a bit sloppy and a bit careless in the way we conduct ourselves.


So, if we want our workplaces, our homes and our social lives to run smoothly, we need to do something. And we need to do it now. We need to create environments where people put their best foot forward – first time, every time. We need to create environments where it’s easy for people to do ‘the right thing’.


And the way to do it is by stepping up to and embracing the principles and strategies encompassed in what I call Best Practice Behaviour


Best Practice Behaviour to the rescue.

Best Practice Behaviour consists of three main parts: Declare standards; Develop capacity; and Normalise success. And what follows is a very brief overview of each.


It’s essential for our future success in business, government, schools, families, community and life itself. And it applies to management, leadership, customer service, teamwork, employee engagement and whatever else because these are just contexts. They’re just contexts in which Best Practice Behaviour needs to occur.


Best Practice Behaviour gives us the framework we need to get the best from people. It helps us get clear about what we expect from people and ourselves. It helps us get clear about our standards and those of the organisation. And helps us define them and declare them. Easy; right?

Well no. Far from it. And the result is havoc and conflict. So we find ourselves putting band-aids on them. We find ourselves wondering why people don’t ‘get it’ and why they don’t ‘do the right thing’.


If you’d like to talk to me about how I might be able to help, please just go to my Contact page.  But just before you go, here’s a short video of me explaining afew things about Best Practice behaviour. All the very best, Mark.

Contact Mark and see if he’s got what you’re after.