Dealing with Difficult People – Part 2

It was a pleasure to see so many of you at the workshop today!  For workshop attendees and any of our blog readers that may be interested – here are some key points related to working with difficult people:


Although you might think of someone as having a difficult personality – sometimes the true issue is“differences”.  Meaning one person is formal, task-oriented, reserved, and appreciates the details, while a colleague who is informal, people-oriented, gregarious, and a visionary who dislikes the details may often find communicating difficult.  Neither is wrong – but both may have issues with each other sporadically or often.

Various traits, motivations, priorities, backgrounds, and filters provide diversity (and let’s face it) challenges in the workplace.

If you want your difficult work relationships to improve, rather than spending a lot of your time wishing or hoping or talking about the challenge – try to discover what the differences are between the two of you and how you might work with the individual in new ways.


Conflict is a perceived or actual opposition to one’s needs, values, interests, and/or wants.

There are typically four levels of conflict beginning with irritation, then annoyance, anger, (things begin to get personal here) and then fury.

Some conflicts may progress or escalate slowly, or even fizzle out.  Other conflicts take only moments to move from mild irritation to full-blown fury (where all objectivity is gone and retribution often becomes the primary objective).

Resolving Conflict

In order to resolve conflict you typically will need to:

1) Identify the key issues

2) Respond in a respectful manner

3) Explore options

4) Agree on a solution (or at the very least next steps)

Difficult Customers

In addition to the steps mentioned above – it is important to note that being told “It’s not my job” or “I don’t know” are triggers for stressed customers. Feeling disrespected and not being listened to (processed as a transaction as compared to treated as an important individual) are common issues for dissatisfied customers.

Practicing active listening (“Am I listening to learn?”), offering empathy (“I’m sorry you’ve experienced ‘xyz’, I know that is not at all what our company wants to offer to our customers”) and focusing on solutions, (“Would this be an acceptable resolution?” Or, “What do you think is the next best step?”) are generally accepted as productive best practices.

Workplace Bullies

Bullies take a toll on their victims physically, mentally and emotionally and their behavior is repetitive, systematic and directed at specific individuals versus generally bad behavior towards all.

There are several types of bullies including the “Critic”, The “Conniver”, The “Raging Bull” and the “Gatekeeper”.  While the Critic and the Raging Bull are more easily recognized, it is the Conniver (one who manipulates, gossips and undermines another) and/or the Gatekeeper (one who publicly offers support and then secretly withholds support and resources) that are the most difficult work relationships to improve.

Several governments have undertaken studies about the impact and increasing role of workplace bullying. In some studies,  80% of bullying is conducted by supervisors.  A recent Gallup Poll reflects support for these findings, as up to 70% of workers are disengaged from their work and the most common complaints relate to the quality of the employee’s relationship with his/her team leader.

There are several helpful resources including the website KickBully (which provides a variety of insights, and responses – albeit some unrecommended retorts).


In the previous post on “Difficult People” a quote related to Martin Luther King Jr. points out that “we fear one another because we do not know one another, and we do not know one another because we don’t know how to communicate with one another“.

I think that is true.  One of my favorite authors is Dr. Deborah Tannen. Dr. Tannen is a Linguistics Professor at Georgetown University.  Her book “Talking 9:00 to 5:00 Men & Women at Work” offers practical insights and take-away advice.

Communication problems do not just occur between men and women, but as previously stated they can occur between anyone due to differences in traits, motivations and priorities.


I often recommend the group PI (Predictive Index) who provide an outstanding assessment/learning tool for those organizations who wish to develop a deeper understanding of the motivations and traits of their workforce.

In 1991 I was given a PI by a potential employer.  A brief outline of my chief traits and motivations was provided to me at the interview.  After obtaining the job as “Director of Marketing & Training” – I learned how the assessment provides a great platform for effective leadership and communication with team members.

If you have any additional resources, comments or insights – please feel free to share!