DO YOU have any "difficult" people on your team? As any manager will tell you, dealing with the good guys is not a problem - it is the difficult ones who are a challenge.

You might disagree, but in my experience as a manager, I found that there are very few really difficult staff.

The people on your team do not necessarily think, look or act the way you do, but that does not make them "difficult". It just makes them different!

Recently, I was listening to a teacher on television, talking about how he was unable to handle "difficult" schoolchildren.

After listening to him for a while, it became apparent that the problem did not lie entirely with the children, as he was trying to suggest. He just did not have good communication skills.

If you have a difficult team member, or even more than one, you may feel there is not much you can do. Here is a suggestion.

Instead of concentrating on dealing with difficult staff, it is much more productive to stop them being difficult in the first place.

If managers and supervisors can create the right working environment for their team, then they are less likely to experience problems with their staff.

Here are two ways to deal with difficult staff:

Spend quality time

Five minutes of quality time on a regular basis is far more productive than a one-hour review every year. You need to get to know your individual team members better and they need to get to know you. Here's how:

" Build individual relationships with team members; you will gain a much better understanding of them and how they're handling the job. It will show that you care about them and that you are there to help with problems, both business and personal.

" Find out as much as you can about them, their backgrounds, where they are from, families, pets, hobbies, sports and their views on the world.

" Discover their philosophies and faiths, and how they think and how they feel. It is like building any other relationship because it starts from asking yourself what you want to know about this person.

Do this over time, and slowly but surely, you will know each person in your team very well.

You might also be thinking that your team members won't want you to get to know them that well. Let me reassure you - most of them will, if they believe that you are sincere.

People are flattered when someone is genuinely and positively interested in them. They may not always give that impression but, they want to know you care and they want acceptance from you.

Reward good performance

When dealing with a "difficult" employee, concentrate on what he does well and tell him about it. Spend less time on his "bad" behaviour.

It is not uncommon for managers to invest 90 per cent of their energy responding to negative performances and only 10 per cent on strengthening positive performances. If you "reward" good behaviour, you will get more of it.

It is very easy for a manager or supervisor to fall into the trap of condemning one of their team as a no-hoper or a problem child.

It may turn out that this person should not be on your team, and you may need to help them find another position. However, as Abraham Lincoln once said about someone he had a problem: "I don't think I like that man, I must get to know him better."

Do the same, and you are less likely to have problems with difficult staff.