Last updated: July 18, 2019
Topic: BusinessEnergy
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Managing Difficult People


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Managing difficult people is based upon possessing the adequate skills to tackle such people. They create conflict between themselves and others. This can be behavior based. Difficult people act in a way that offends others. Difficult people are found in every organization. A constant conflict at work results in a person getting blamed for unable to handle the situation and even being called a difficult person.  Such a situation could result in a loss of job. One approach to this problem is to stay away from difficult people. There are problems with such tactics. One is the impossibility of avoiding people all the time. Further would be the failure to learning new coping strategies and intensifying the stress.

Interacting with difficult people can be challenging. A person must recognize the characteristics of negative people. He should learn how to work with them as these results in lessening their impact and encouraging a change in attitude. Difficult people are can be found in abundance. They are found at staff meetings, in the classroom and workplace. Their outlook can drain everyone’s energy. A healthy environment can only be maintained if ways to recognize and countering are discovered and used. Difficult people are obstacles to progress or change. They constantly complain about other people, administration or limited resources (Pincus, 2004).

Difficult people are totally focused on their own agenda and needs. They create tension and conflicts. They cause lots of time and attention for senior management. Managers must possess a good understanding of the people they are managing.  A manager must intervene at times and troubleshoot problems. The manager must be smarter than the average person. He must be able to make decisions that carry a positive affect on the business. Decisions can be stressful for managers. Managing difficult people is the trickiest business and several coping strategies have to be learned and developed to properly handle them (Pincus, 2004).

Conflict is created when two or more people interact with each other. Therefore the person concerned and the person with whom there is conflict must be dealt with. It is futile to try to force the same behavior amongst both people since diversity results in innovation in organizations.  Any person who is difficult only to make others feel uncomfortable or to demonstrate their skills must be clearly told to refrain from such behavior. Such behavior cannot be tolerated in a dynamic environment.

Trying to understand the other person’s point of view is very essential in managing difficult people. Writing down their wants and your wants is an important step. Trying to find common ground might result in conflict resolution. The issue must focus on the difference of opinion and approach not in personality. The cause of the problem must be found. Finding the cause sometimes removes the conflict and is better than trying to focus on the symptoms.

A manager must make sure that he can find an outcome which can be supported by both persons (Pincus, 2004). Establishing the facts around the issue is crucial for conflict resolution. The manager must also make both persons aware about things in which there is no compromise. Highlighting the things which both agree on can be used as a basis to resolve differences. Any argument which gets overheated should be terminated immediately as this can usually result in statements which might not be forgiven.

Analyzing the conflict results in an evaluation of the manager’s performance. Issues like what strategies worked and what didn’t are analyzed and studied. Good managers must be pragmatic and able to be assertive.

Several types of difficult people

Aggressive people are one of them. They do not listen to anyone. They consider everyone to be wrong while they believe they are right. They ensure that they win every time. They are full of rude comments and sarcasm. To deal with aggressive people, managers must start by letting them express their anger. They require opportunities to reduce steam. Actively listening to them creates an impression that the manager is listening to them. They cannot listen to others. They usually express their anger and do it many times (Scott, 2004).

Sometimes talking at the aggressor is difficult when they are engaged in verbal assaults. One technique is to use few words like “Yes”, “I do not agree”, or “No”. This technique is known as clipping. This causes the aggressor to stop the verbal assault and take a breath. Aggressive people cause tension and upset people. They try to dominate the conversation which prevents other people from giving their input (Scott, 2004).

Another type of difficult people is the victims who whine and moan all the time. They always seem to be able to find scapegoats for their problems. They do not take responsibility for their actions and find it much easier to blame others. Victims are usually depressed people and exaggerate any problem. They also are time wasters.

Victims are good at finding reasons and people to blame for their poor work and performance. They have incomplete stories and explanations. The best way to deal with victims is to listen to their complaints. Victims complain and no one really takes the time to listen to them. They feel depressed and neglected. A manager must provide his own explanation of the victim’s problems. He must pressurize the victim to prioritize his problems. Helping chose an appropriate course of action to solve the problem is also beneficial. Victims must be made aware that they are not helpless. Finding ways to help them achieve short-term wins reduces their anxieties and worries. They constantly require attention and recognition (Scott, 2004).

Rescuers are types of difficult people who are willing to help other people in their projects. They always want to be appreciated. They have good abilities in recognizing other people’s help. They also regularly try to intervene to save the day. They avoid conflicts. They say yes to every task without thinking about the consequences. This results in over commitment and neglect of their work. The best way to manage these people is to hold them responsible for their job duties. They should be assigned large tasks if they possess the capability (Scott, 2004).

Some researchers also characterize people and their difficult behavior by comparing them with wildlife. A snake is a person who likes to gossip, criticize and engage in unhealthy disagreements. This results in personal relations being destroyed. An organization’s reputation also suffers. A shark is a person who acts covertly. He can withhold information and provide irrational excuses for poor work. He likes to harass colleagues. The wild cat has a history of refusing to do some work and like sabotaging other people’s work. They reject being managed by others. A hyena is aggressive and blames other people. He rejects taking responsibility for his actions (Scott, 2004).

There are many ways to deal with such people. Assertively standing up to aggressive people results in their becoming bewildered. Aggressive people expect others to react either aggressively or passively. Aggressive or passive reactions fulfill the objectives of aggressive people. Assertiveness is the best method to deal them. Being assertive means making your opinions heard without being passive or aggressive.

Decisive action must be immediately undertaken. Difficult people should be made aware that their behavior could result in higher management addressing the issue. Action must be swift and decisive. The problem must be solved by being objective and controlling emotions. Irrational thoughts can emerge if the person loses his temper.  Tactics like gossip about the difficult person and sending notes must be avoided. Difficult persons must be approached with the belief that restoring harmony is the first step toward reconciliation (Scott, 2004). Constant complains must be avoided. A manager must let the two persons try to solve their problems. Constantly getting involved in conflicts will result in the person getting blamed for problems.  It is wise to check your fight, flight or freeze reactions. Standing up for yourself is important but it should be done without demanding that you be above criticism at all costs. The focus should be on long term goals.

Another type of difficult person is the silent types who usually respond with one-word answers and are very quiet. They do not participate in conversations. They have a habit of not revealing their secrets. They have feelings of shyness. The most effective method to tackle them is to be frank and straightforward. Showing appreciation for their work gives them courage and confidence. They must be given adequate time in conversations for them to respond (Shepard, 2005).

Pessimists never have solutions. They have feelings of being powerless in most situations. They generate power by exaggerating small issues. Their negative attitudes can be counterproductive for office morale. The best way to handle them is to work effectively with them. Their negative aspects must be presented to them and positive alternatives must be provided.  A manager must not be drawn into their negative opinions or arguments. They must be given time to think during discussions. They should be given time to save their faces and re-evaluate discussions. They try maximum efforts to please everyone. They also exhibit a tendency to over commit and delay tasks. They make all efforts to evade disagreement. A manager must not threaten them if he wants to work effectively with them. Asking for their opinions and solution helps them in analyzing a situation. Their schedules should be monitored and managed. They should be held accountable for their commitments in any project (Shepard, 2005).

Fault-Finders are those who frequently complain about others. They do not take responsibility for their actions. They place blame for their failures on other people. They feel helpless to fix any problems. They are perfectionists. They are self critical and also criticize other people. Listening to them, asking for clarification, guiding the conversation towards alternatives and acknowledging their feelings are the best way to deal with such people.

Experts are types of difficult people with feelings of superiority. They tend to be condescending. Experts are very stubborn. They have a tendency to mistrust other people.  They always manage to find scapegoats. They require admiration. They can make up answers if they don’t have one. Listening to their opinion, respecting them, giving them credit and providing them with a way out is the best way to handle them.

Another type of hostile people is those that take the task at hand. These types of people are characterized by constantly being in crisis. They can be easily distracted and do not focus on the immediate task. The best way to cope with them is explain the importance of the task or project to the company. Dramatizing a bit to add, outlining the necessary steps and then monitoring their progress with praise is the best way to handle them (Shepard, 2005).

Aggressive bullies are quick to anger, love to intimidate others and throw tantrums.  They believe they are right all of the time. They try to prove their superiority. Staying calm during their assaults, standing up for yourself, maintaining good eye contact and being friendly will definitely let their anger go away. The difficult person can be a challenge. However being prepared for them can minimize their negative impact. People who are affected by difficult people can lose time on the job due to frustration. They can be victims of stress and illness caused by negative interactions with difficult people. An organization can lose its customers due to the problems of a difficult person (Shepard, 2005).


Effective strategies to deal with difficult people

The challenge is to use to creative and innovative ways to handle difficult people. Doctors believe that changing oneself is more realistic than changing the behavior of others. Communications skills can effectively transform conflicts into cooperation. It has been noted that being assertive helps in making your point without insulting the other person. Assertiveness creates the feelings of mutual recognition and respect. Assertiveness is a source of personal strength and positive thinking. An assertive person can mediate in any conflict and transform it into resolution.

Disagreeing is a great method to manage difficult people. Combining emotions, thoughts, words and actions on a difficult person forces them to hear what you have to say. Failure to look at the problem can produce negative results. The best solution is to use positive thinking. It reflects how a person will hear you as you speak. Negative or angry expressions force anger the difficult person to retaliate. People make mistakes. However using critical thinking processes you can conquer any difficult situation and person. The best way is to disagree with the individual without disagreeing at all.

Sometimes when we deal with problems we have to check our own reality. A description of the problem helps in checking one’s own reality. Steps in resolving the problem, include accepting, making good choices, and taking necessary steps to resolve the problem (Shepard, 2005).

Consider for example you are dealing with a person that tests you by pushing influences and beliefs on you. The person is making you feel anxious and overwhelmed. The first step is accepting the problem. Learning to accept by describing the problem and recognizing its existence is the second step. The problem can be handled by visualizing ideas (Shepard, 2005).

Another method to deal with difficult people is to examine you and I.  This means you examine your part in the problem along with the entire part. You and I is defined as learning how to use the “I” statements while dealing with someone difficult. The “I” statement can prove more beneficial in conquering the difficult person. Paraphrasing carries the benefit of making the difficult person think about what they are saying. This makes the person feel appreciated and also makes him feel less reluctant to argue. This also reduces misunderstandings. Paraphrasing is removing the obstacles to reach an understanding. This also helps in making the best of a bad situation (Shepard, 2005).

The ability to understand feelings and thinking can help you to make better choices. Thinking is a mental process while feelings come from the heart. Using thinking against emotions while expressing feelings fashionably you can almost defeat any problem you face. The first step is to put a name on the problem.  After that expectations need to be minimized. Moving along can set up limits, providing feedback, focusing on the problem and hope for the best. A person must be prepared to change and accept those changes.

The problem must be looked objectively while considering feelings, and opinions. It is also essential to learn how you can avoid pushing them on the difficult person in a negative light. They must be implemented using different ideas and strategies to reach a positive conclusion. Reviewing the problem helps to look for inconsistencies. Thoughts, feelings and behavior must be examined in this process. Goal generation as you begin to work towards coping with the difficult person helps a lot. It is important to create goals. A person must work towards attaining those goals. The goal in this situation is to counter difficult people (Shepard, 2005).

Remaining flexible and opening up to options while goals are being done is very important. Behavior must be changed so that actions do not create a negative impression on the difficult person. Simultaneously the problem must be researched and resolving the problem. Giving the problem a name helps a lot in finding solutions. Using a creative mind helps draw maps and linking them with answers that can subdue the difficult person. The application of workable strategies results in countering the difficult person.

Angry people can result in exploding other people. However this only aggravates the situation. Sometimes when dealing with difficult people we want the problem to vanish. Sometimes we can’t find the answers. If you have feelings of anger and are unable to deal with the problem than the best way is to ask for questions. This helps in creating answers. The answers must be broken into parts and linked with each of the questions (Shepard, 2005).


The problem must be divided into sections. After that the most essential parts of the problem must be identified. This helps you to get rid of the trivial issues. Once the trivial issues have been filtered out the true problem will come up and be identified. It is important to consider all aspects of the problem. This will help with coming up with the best working solution. Sometimes you gain insight into the problem as you see more in the problem. You must take yourself out of the problem and look it from the difficult person’s perspective. By considering all sides of the picture this helps in finding methods to resolve the situation. By looking deeper into the situation helps in coming with a solution and also gives you a sense of control (Shepard, 2005).

Life is not a bed of roses. Sometimes you have to face difficult people. This can make you angry. A difficult person has no respect for others and only thinks about himself. Recognizing these defects and working towards a resolution simultaneously can help. Information must also be gained to understand difficult people.  Understanding the difficult person helps in dealing with them. Most difficult persons are the ones with the problem. It is better to remain silent or walk away from the situation. In other situations it is wise to confront the problem. However care must be taken to avoid negative thoughts. Difficult people create problems and they do not respect other people (Shepard, 2005). hey can be bullies, bosses, managers, friends, children, wives or husbands. The best solution is to display a level of maturity and use critical thinking to solve the problem.



The steps in conquering difficult people are to identify the problem, use negotiation, check your choices, select the best solution, create a plan, use logic, analyze the situation, ask for feedback, conduct a study and address the problem. This might seem to be difficult but if it is broken into small parts it will definitely solve your problem.
Breaking down the problem gives us a fighting chance. The source of the problem must be analyzed and studied. Searching for strategies to negotiate the problem is the next major step. Specific incidents must be recorded. Triggers for the difficult person’s behavior must be identified. Also what kind of emotions do you have when the difficult person approaches you are important (Shepard, 2005).

After that the important step is to write down everything. Strategies must be developed to deal with the person without further aggravating the situation. Consider next noting your actions and thoughts each time you encounter the difficult person. After that you can list similar encounters from your past. You should consider what happened and how you resolved the issues. You must find a strategy you employed in the past that worked well with another person similar to this difficult individual. You can clarify your behaviors and thoughts by searching for a resolution that will produce positive results.
You must have a clear understanding of the forces blocking your rights to make a sound decision. If you are causing the other person to be angry, than you must identify it and remove the behaviors or words. Someone might be angry if he has not resolved his inner self-issues (Shepard, 2005).


The best solution is to face and resolve the problem yourself. This gives you wonderful feelings. It gives an impression of control of your life. Opposition and fear are conquered. Conquering someone difficult gives you satisfaction. Getting organized and working out a plan of action is important. The person must be confronted immediately. The exact problem must be written down and a goal should be defined. The goal would be resolve the conflict. After that writing down a plan is necessary to support your goal. Each point must be prioritized and the important ones should be highlighted (Shepard, 2005).

The objections, reactions or disagreements the other person may have should be written down. Specific concerns and your personal fears must be written. This must include everything you are afraid might happen during the meeting. Specific concerns must be put in writing to reduce their impact on you. Solutions must be written for each reaction and disagreement. Notes must be organized and support documents must be collected. The meeting should be at a place where you will not be disturbed (Shepard, 2005).

Make direct eye contact with the person once the meeting takes place. Provide him with an explanation of the specific problem. It is important to listen carefully to the other person. Ensure that they have perfectly understood what you said. Solutions must be used to their reactions. The other person’s dialogue must be listened. It is important to continue to describe your points and not give up. Communication must be maintained as long as the goal is achieved.



Confronting and handling difficult people frequently makes it easier. This decreases the time for confrontation. Decisive action makes you tough and strong. People respect you for your courage and your control if you frequently are able to handle difficult people. It has been observed that decisive action and ability to handle difficult people results in your colleagues emulating you and increasing their productivity. Your foes can do no harm and might even become your friends. To achieve success in life it is essential to have the ability to take positive action (Brinkman, 2005).

Sometimes if you are unable to change the other side you can still exert a positive influence.  Opponents view surprises as threats.  To reduce tensions, be as clear as possible in your dealings with uncooperative counterparts. Announcing your intentions and sticking to them helps a lot (Brinkman, 2005).

Pointing fingers only intensifies defensiveness and self-justification.  Showing your expectations in the way you talk about your side of the deal helps a lot in diffusing tensions. Creating phrases also helps promote changes in the other person. You might not able to influence some conflicts. The person is unaware of themselves and how they affect others.  They also do not realize how harmful their actions are to their own career success.  In the business world, we are faced with trying to work with difficult people. If we change our attitudes and viewpoints we can increase our knowledge and ability to work with people.


It is futile to argue with people who are angry. Realize that the person has feelings of insecurity.  Continuing to push them will only make things worse. You must pursue the discussion another time if the person is stressed out. If the person has a habit of attacking others then it is essential to find other people to work with. Maintaining self confidence and preventing verbal assaults is very important (Brinkman, 2005).

The difficult person must be made aware of the fact that his behavior is hurting his career. Goals must be set for them to ensure that they learn to work better with others and monitor their behavior until it improves.  If it does not improve within a reasonable time then it is time to fire them (Brinkman, 2005).

It is important to learn to recognize when your defensive mechanisms come up.  You must realize that you are probably not really being attacked. You must not react quickly and learn how to listen to others. You must understand what others are saying. You must also consider that other people have good ideas that are just as valid as yours.  It is essential that you take courses or workshops in listening skills and team-building. It takes times to change insecurity and defensiveness.






Each workplace has difficult people in all types of variety. It is a formidable task to deal with difficult people when they are launching verbal assaults and trying to sabotage your professional career. They come in every variety. They have a habit of talking constantly. They cannot keep commitments. Criticizing anything which they did not create and competing for power are few of their characteristics.

Some difficult people make deliberate attempts to undermine you. It is vital to address them. You must deal with difficult people or situations with objectivity and emotional control. It is a negative issue if you constantly complain about the coworker or situation. This can result you getting labeled as a whiner or complainer. Continuously getting involved in conflicts will result in labels as being unable to handle the situation and being called a difficult person yourself. It can have a negative impact for your career. The organization might get tired of you. Using dysfunctional methods to deal with difficult coworkers in several workplaces is counterproductive. Putting an anonymous note is not an option and confronting the bully publicly can lead to disaster (Brinkman, 2005).






A full examination of one’s self is essential. This can help in determining if the difficult person is forced to act in such a way because of your attention. Another important strategy is to brainstorm ways to address the situation. If you are the object of an attack it is difficult to objectively assess your options (Brinkman, 2005).

A private discussion between you and the difficult person is essential. You should explain to your colleague the consequences of your actions. You should be pleasant and agreeable. An attempt must be reached towards conflict resolution. The discussion should be handled courteously and in a respectful manner. (Mannering, 2006).

Follow ups are essential after the first discussion. Try to find out if another discussion is necessary. The impact of the follow up discussion should be done. Your ability and experience will be the key factors to success. Positive confrontational tactics might also be required.


After studying the different types of difficult people and strategies to cope with them a discussion of various scenarios will give us an idea of how to tackle these people. Every company has a person who knows it all. Such a type of person is an old employee for the company and has been doing the same job. They work hard. However they are big distractions for their co-workers. Tom is working for an organization for the past twenty years as a quality control inspector inside an automobile spare parts manufacturing firm. He is very punctual and does a good job. However many people cannot work with Tom because he picks up feuds with them each month. The company is unwilling or unable to find a replacement. Some time later Harry shows up. Harry is hard working, reliable and enjoys friendship with his coworkers. Tom feels threatened by Harry. He continuously harasses Harry. However tension emerges as a part inspected by Harry is also inspected by Tom.  The company decides to keep Tom and is given a few days without pay. Harry leaves the company after getting a better job (Mannering, 2006).

The right decision was not made in the above scenario. Tom should have been fired immediately. A difficult person like Tom must be made aware of the fact that while his work is impressive; his behavior towards coworkers is not. He should immediately solve the problem. He should improve his behavior towards his coworkers or he must be made aware of the fact that his employment is in jeopardy (Mannering, 2006).

Another scenario is managing a highly skilled employee who does not get along with others. The high end employee is Susan. She is a chemist and a top producer. She has benefited the company by increasing efficiency.  However she has real problems getting along with her co-workers.  This type of scenario requires a few things.  First is the size of the company and Susan’s contribution.  If you want to replace the employee than you could hire someone to help them out.  It takes to replace some employees. The employee can be a replacement but must be slowly trained and gradually once they are fulfilling the job than an employee like Susan can be fired.

There are sometimes people who do a great job but drive you crazy. These types of people may drop at your office at the wrong time. They wear funny dresses. They are people who you can’t stand.  Such people have to be tolerated as long as they are doing their jobs and contributing to the bottom line.

Sometimes there are employees who are master of their jobs and always exceed expectations.  They can be given any project. They may have any other positive qualities.  However the trouble starts when they get burned and are looking for a change. This can be challenge for smaller and medium sized companies. No manager would want an exceptionally trained person to move out of their department. The natural response is to throw more money at them.  This is only effective for short term purposes.

An example of this type of employee is David. He is a field network engineer. He works very hard satisfying the clients. He had adequate understanding of designing, troubleshooting and configuring computer networks. He works hard. He does not run into problems. His colleagues respect him. However as an IT person visiting clients eventually burns out. David is getting burned out because of this. His manager assigns him to a small upgrade project. David completes the job and is refreshed. However he is asking whether he can move to sales. His manager does not allow him to go to sales because of doubts of his ability to perform as a good salesperson. A few months later David moves to a new company working as a top salesperson. The lesson of this scenario is very simple. A good employee with good expertise and ethics can help the company in any role. Every effort should be made to move such exceptional employees to other places to prevent him from burning (Mannering, 2006).

There are creative persons in companies who have poor relations with their colleagues. The type of creative people could be artists, graphic designers, computer programmers, designers. Their jobs require a great deal of concentration and a great deal of time.  A person visited a company that designed complex testing software for the automotive and aerospace industry.  It had a huge space.  No one was there.  The person at the company explained to the other person who was visiting that they were on a new project and worked whenever they wanted.  The programmers had decided to work when no one else was around.  They attended a meeting once a week during regular working hours (Mannering, 2006).

When dealing with motivated and intelligent employees we sometimes run across that exceptional employee who just wants to do things his way.  They believe that they are good at what they do. This is not arrogance but real and fundamental confidence in their abilities. They often try to change things in areas over which they have no control. Dealing with this type of person is a big challenge.  Some people are going to catch up with you and will start their own businesses.  You can minimize the chances by giving them more responsibility and flexibility but you can’t win them all (Mannering, 2006).

Difficult people are not difficult to handle. It is important that you be able to identify these types of people. Further you must also be able to use the best strategy depending upon the situation and type of difficult person. Each difficult person has his own unique characteristics. Sometimes it also happens that a person’s own behavior and actions are causing the difficult person to react. Being assertive helps a lot in coping and managing difficult people.










Difficult people are found in every house, workplace or neighborhood. They can be your boss, manager, colleagues, wife, friend or husband. It is important to identify the various types of difficult people. Difficult people come in various types. They can be the angry exploding type. They can be like the characteristics of animals like hyena, snake, etc. They can be victims or rescuers.

The most important thing to keep in mind while handling difficult people is to be calm. A person must think about dealing with the various parts of the problem. He must than link them with answers. He should also focus on conflict resolution as a goal.

There are many ways to cope with difficult people and their behavior. They criticize people and create an unhealthy work environment. They think that they are above criticism. While many might be productive workers they might cause serious disturbances in the workplace.

Being assertive is an important way to deal with difficult people. Without being aggressive or passive, this astonishes the difficult person and might force him to change his behavior. Remember that you might also be part of the problem and it is important to first check whether any change in behavior might resolve the conflict.











































Pincus, Marilyn (2004). Managing Difficult People: A Survival Guide for Handling Any Employee. US: Adams Media Corporation.


Scott, Gini Graham (2004). A Survival Guide for Working With Humans: Dealing With Whiners, Back-Stabbers, Know-It-Alls, and Other Difficult People. US: AMACOM/American Management Association.


Shepard, Glenn (2005). How to Manage Problem Employees: A Step-by-Step Guide for Turning Difficult Employees into High Performers. US: Wiley.


Brinkman, Dr. Rick (2005). Dealing with Difficult People: 24 lessons for Bringing Out the Best in Everyone. US: McGraw-Hill.


Mannering, Karen (2006). Managing Difficult People; Effective Management Strategies for Handling Challenging Behaviour. US: UBS Publisher’s Distributors.