Keeping Your Cool: Dealing with Difficult People
By Rhonda Savage
People today have a short fuse – everyone is stressed. And
when people are stressed, they can become difficult to be around.
Chances are, you’ve worked with at least one difficult person in
your organization. You recognize the behaviors of a difficult
person, such as: a bad attitude, apathy, difficulty handling change,
and terrible customer service. Difficult people give you the silent
treatment or worse – they can be verbally aggressive.
Unfortunately, if you don’t address this kind of behavior,
one of two things will happen:
1) Employees will
become resentful and think less of you as a leader.
2) Employees will
start modeling the behavior of the person who is not being
It’s important to understand, there’s only one reason anyone
behaves in an unacceptable manner: Because they get away with it!
So, who’s responsible for difficult people? The answer is anyone who
tolerates them. Every time you give in to a difficult person, every
time you choose not to confront him or her, you allow a difficult
person to continue this rude behavior.
What does a difficult person in your office look like?
Often, he is the one who gets the better schedule. He may come in a
late or depart the office early, leaving his work for others to
finish. He might take a longer lunch, talk on his cell phone or pay
his personal bills during work hours. No one asks him to work on an
office project because people don’t like working with him.
So, how can you change this situation? Confrontation is one
answer. Unfortunately, it can be hard for anyone to address this
issue. However, it’s important to understand that dealing with the
issue will facilitate a more harmonious atmosphere in the office,
leading to increased productivity, improved morale and a healthier
You’ll need to set boundaries, expectations and guidelines,
and then hold the person accountable for his or her behaviors. Here
are some tips, whether you are an employee dealing with a difficult
supervisor, a worker dealing with a co-worker, or a manager dealing
with a challenging employee:
Owner or Manager to
Have you ever had
an employee who was demanding, condescending, abrupt, tearful,
insecure, and high maintenance – and yet she did an excellent job?
Were you worried about losing her because she produced great work?
Just because someone does great work doesn’t make her a good
employee. If you have a person whose behavior is affecting the
morale and productivity in the office, and you’ve already coached
the employee on the issue, this person needs a formal corrective
The employee should be given a copy of the corrective review;
a signed copy is placed in his employee file. Let the employee know
the specific behavior you need to have changed, your clearly defined
expectations, and a time frame he has to work within. Have a follow
up meeting within a designated time period to give the employee the
feedback he needs. Be sure to provide clear oversight.
Employee to Manager:
What if the difficult person is your boss or manager? Approach your
employer or supervisor first by asking: “I need to talk with you
about something. Is now a good time?” If not, schedule a time
to talk. Begin by expressing your intention and your motives.
Explain your concern about a loss of business and unhappy clients,
and that your intentions are to help make the workplace not only
productive, but one that exceeds the clients’ expectations.
Another approach is to talk about how certain behaviors in
the office are decreasing efficiency. Explain that you’d like to
talk about ways to improve the systems in the office. By first
addressing the issues as though you’re tackling a problem or a
system issue, your supervisor or employer will not be defensive.
Always be tactful, professional, calm, and polite. Ask your employer
or manager for their goals and offer to give suggestions to help
meet those goals.
Use the “feel, felt, found” method: “Many of our
customers feel uncomfortable when you speak to the other
employees; they’ve expressed how they’ve felt when you left
the room. I’ve found if I convey customer concerns to my
supervisor that our sales have increased.”
If you have a problem with a co-worker, the best course of action is
to go to that person directly. Do not talk about the issues with
your fellow co-workers behind the other person’s back! Go to the
person privately and tell them about it.
There are three steps to this.
1) Let the person
know you’d like to talk about something that’s been bothering you.
Ask him or her, “Is this a good time?”
2) Describe the
behavior with dates, names and times. Be specific. Begin by saying:
“I’d like to talk with you about this. This is how I felt when….”
Speak only for yourself and how the behavior affects you.
3) Describe what
you would like to see changed. Try to resolve the issue first
personally and privately. If the situation does not change, request
a meeting between yourself, the other person and your employer.
can choose his or her attitude. Each day, when someone walks out the
front door to go to work, that person has a choice in how her day
will play out. You can’t always choose the people who surround you
but you can try to make them aware of their behaviors. If you have
a difficult person in your life, set the boundaries, explain your
expectations, and then hold that person accountable. Be calm when
you’re doing this! The person who is calm and asks the questions is
the one in control.
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