Dealing with Difficult People

Monday, September 4 2023

Alex is a difficult employee. Increasingly argumentative lately, insisting on only one way of doing things, and claiming to be right without having the full picture. Talking behind the backs of others, blaming, sometimes name-calling, and generally being pessimistic. Dealing with difficult people is a real problem for the team and manager.

The process of resolving difficulties starts within ourselves because it’s good to remember that sometimes we can be Alex and exhibit all the behaviours we find irritating in others. As a leader, any interaction we have with a “difficult” person is going to be much more successful if we can maintain our composure and keep our emotional triggers in check. One effective way to assess and neutralize our personal triggers is to have an intentional conversation with our boss or coach.

Five key strategies that can help in dealing with difficult people:

1. Create an environment of trust and safety where the employee can express their concerns. Providing a place to share will often de-escalate the emotional charge because individuals need to be heard.

  • Ask, “What is going on?”
  • Listen with curiosity and empathy.
  • Asking “what else” or “is there more” can allow the employee to drain the swamp.

2. Prompt with the facts that you have observed. Avoid judgements as much as possible. Instead of saying, “You were rude in that meeting,” try something more observable such as, “I noticed that a number of people were talking at the same time during our meeting and wanted to get your input on this.”

3. Look for the unmet needs that may be driving challenging behaviours. Do they have a need to be heard or to have the right answer? Perhaps they want fairness, competition, agreement, or accountability? Understanding that we all have different needs can be the catalyst for a conversation about how we cooperate and flourish in a diverse environment.

4. Be vulnerable and share if you can, since nothing builds trust like honesty and vulnerability. Let them know that you don’t expect perfection, because you aren’t perfect either. If they are receptive, you can share some of your coping mechanisms.

5. Brainstorm solutions together, then let them know you care about and believe in them. “We hired you because you are good at this, so let’s work together to elevate the performance of the team, and achieve the organization’s vision.”

Taking the time to talk to our “difficult people” can pay rich dividends. When you get to the root of the problem, show that you care and are invested in their success, you can create trustworthy and loyal employees.

For help with ideas to help your people, contact TAC. Follow TAC on any of these platforms:


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