Tips for Dealing with Difficult People

Difficult people exist in all walks of life; they can be people with behaviour or attitude problems, time wasters or people who do not like change. It is useful to learn a few techniques to help you manage them with confidence and avoid being manipulated.

Difficult, who me?

Start out by examining yourself. Are you difficult?

  • Are you sure that the other person is really the problem and that you’re not overreacting?
  • Do you regularly experience difficulty with the same type of person or actions?
  • Do you recognise that you have hot buttons that are easily pushed?

You are not alone. We all do, the key is to acknowledge them as bear traps and learn to manage them.

Using an assertive style of behaviour will help to reduce the potential for conflict around you:

  • Remain in control, even in challenging situations.
  • Respect the opinions and actions of others – even if you do not agree with them.
  • Be prepared to negotiate.
  • Express your feelings, both positive and negative.
  • Say when you are angry – providing that anger is justified.
  • Accept responsibility for your own actions and use the ‘I’ word to own what you say.

When responding to conflict listen actively to what is being said, listen for feelings and what is not being said. Ask open questions and listen to the answers. Check out your assumptions and understanding.

This is a highly effective and simple way to communicate with a difficult person:

  • Receive the other person’s explanation without interruption. This demonstrates that you are listening and value the other person’s explanation.
  • Repeat the other person’s story as objectively as possible. This will help to open them up.
  • Request their views on how they would tackle the problem. This will help to release tension.
  • Review the possible outcomes.
  • Resolve the situation by coming to an agreed solution

Some strategies that can change a situation:

  • Deal with things as they arise, don’t let them fester
  • Avoid blaming others
  • Build bridges
  • Set clear boundaries
  • Stop colluding
  • Walk Away

We all want to be liked and to be accepted by our work colleagues. This can make dealing with problem staff a major challenge for some managers, particularly those new to management or promoted from within a team.

As a manager you have the right and the responsibility to tackle difficult people or situations. If you deal with the person assertively you will communicate appropriately. Accept that others may not like what you are saying and doing.

“Remember respect is more important at work than friendship”

Change the communication and you change the dynamic! Change what you do, what you say and how you say it. This will create changes in the dynamic between you and other person.

You may not always get what you want, but you will certainly be in charge of what happens between the two of you.

If you’re going into a situation where it’s likely you’ll confront a difficult person, set up some ground rules in advance to cover typical problems, for example time limits for talkers in a group meeting.

If there are particular individuals in your life who are predictable problems, practice methods which are custom designed for responding to them.

It’s not always possible to solve a situation on the spot. Look for a temporary way out so you can seek a solution in a calmer moment.

If you are managing or supervising a team the following tips will help you to reduce the potential for conflict to occur:

  • Ensure good information systems
  • Encourage a climate of open communication
  • Listen actively to what other people say
  • Allow people opportunity to say what they think
  • Set agreed goals with your team
  • Make sure roles and tasks are clearly defined and coordinated
  • Set up the right supervision and support structures
  • Learn from conflicts that have been tackled

Remember, you do have some options for action. Any of them can cause you more trouble with a difficult person if you become a manipulator, so apply them sensitively – but firmly – and with the main goal of getting on with your life.