Moving forward: how to deal with problem people

The behaviour is the problem, not the person. It’s not who they are that’s
the difficulty; it’s what they’re doing ­ that’s what you want changed.
Fortunately, it’s easier to adjust how people behave than to re-engineer their

They’re not doing it on purpose. Despite evidence to the contrary, people
aren’t being difficult to wind you up, they genuinely have a different agenda ­
possibly an insane one, but a real one nonetheless.

When you come into the firing line of a difficult person, it helps to stay
calm. Resist the impulse to be defensive or try to win the argument. If you go
head-to-head you won’t win. Instead, listen and ask questions.

Take the heat out of the situation.
Ask the person being difficult what they’re angry about and what they want to
happen. Try to establish genuine communication.

Agree with them…
Is there a germ of truth in what they’re saying? If they’re calling you an
imbecile, you might agree you did do something that was foolish.

…but only on your terms
However, don’t let them generalise. Say, ‘Okay, I did do something a bit
thoughtless this once, but that doesn’t make me an imbecile.’ Admit specific
errors but don’t accept labelling.

Finally, remember you have four options when dealing with difficult people:

  • Do nothing. Let the storm blow over and wait until the difficult person is
    in a better mood before you approach them.
  • Change your perception. Put a positive spin on their behaviour that makes it
    easier to understand and deal with. For example, are they rude or simply
    forthright? Demanding or just uncompromising?
  • Change the situation. What are the triggers that set them off? Can they be
    changed or modified?
  • Persuade them to change. Often, people are difficult because that’s the
    behaviour that gets them what they want. How could you make good behaviour more
    rewarding than bad?

Lynn Williams is a career coach who writes on job search
and career issues. She is the author of several career books

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