TROUBLED RELATIONSHIPS, PEOPLE PROBLEMS, AND problem people are a ubiquitous challenge of life in families, groups, and organizations. Failed relationships produce angst and wasted effort. They leave people feeling frustrated and helpless, wishing they knew better ways to respond to a chronic source of distress. At work, it could be a problem employee, a bully boss, or a constantly complaining coworker. Beyond work, it might be a mean-spirited neighbor or a troublesome relative. We, our students, and our clients all have stories to tell—many worthy of a TV mini-series for their power and pathos. As authors, educators, and scholars long-committed to the study of organizational effectiveness, we know from deep experience the power of relationships for good or ill. We have experienced the excitement and joy of relationships characterized by trust, respect, support, and caring—and have seen the collaboration, growth, and productivity they foster. We have also known the pain and misery of relationships that undermine best practices, erode confidence, and block us from doing the things we most care about.

In an earlier work, we included a chapter on “Leading Difficult People,”1 and many readers told us it was one of the most useful and important parts of the book. They encouraged us to look deeper, write more, and help them acquire the skills and deeper understandings needed to transform difficult relationships into productive partnerships. We appreciated their feedback, and ...

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