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Dealing with Difficult People


By Brenald Chinyowa

Difficult people are everywhere. Maybe you’re one of them? Or maybe, everyone is difficult during certain moments of their life. Either way, eventually you’ll need to work or compromise with a person that you think is difficult. Over the years, I’ve encountered my fair share of difficult people. People who don’t turn their work in as promised, people who don’t show up for meetings, people who stick vehemently to their views and refuse to collaborate, people who push back on work that they’re responsible for. After a while, I learned that these people are everywhere. No matter where you go, you can never hide from them. Sure, it might be possible to avoid the 1st one or two difficult people, but how about the 3rd, 5th, 10th person you encounter? Hiding isn’t a permanent solution. What’s more, in the context of work, it’s usually difficult to avoid or hide from someone, unless you quit from a job totally. Well – I don’t know about you, but it doesn’t seem feasible to quit every time someone has an opposing view or is being difficult. Here are some useful strategies for dealing with difficult people and hopefully avoiding conflict! So rather than turn to some drastic decisions each time, why not equip yourself with the skills to deal with them.

The easiest way to deal with someone difficult is to be calm, because losing your temper and flaring out at the other person is not the best way to get him/her to collaborate with you, but rather it can make that person rebel. Unless you know that anger will trigger the person into action and you are consciously using it as a strategy to move him/her to action, but it is better to assume a calm persona because a loose temper or a flaring behaviour can revoke the spirit of rebellion. Also someone who is calm is seen as someone being in control, centered and more respectable. Would you prefer to work with someone who is predominantly calm or someone who is always on edge? When the person you are dealing with sees that you are calm despite whatever he/she what he is doing, you will start getting their attention. And always remember the old rule which says you cannot put off a fire by another fire but you need water, therefore you don’t manage a difficult persona by being difficult too but by being calm or soft.
Also when dealing with difficult persona understand the person’s intentions before you react or act. I’d like to believe that no one is difficult for the sake of being difficult. Even when it may seem that the person is just out to get you, there is always some underlying reason that is motivating them to act this way. Rarely is this motivation apparent. Try to identify the person’s trigger: What is making him/her act in this manner? What is stopping him/her from cooperating with you? How can you help to meet his/her needs and resolve the situation? This is a very critical part because everything has a reason or a trigger, do not act on the symptoms but rather on the root cause, it’s like when you are driving your car then the oil indicator starts indicating that the oil level is too low, if you take a bubble gum and close the indicator it won’t solve the problem but rather the car will boil. That is the same concept I am trying to convey here, because maybe the employees are trying to communicate something with you or maybe there are some circumstances at the workplace which makes the employees behave in such a manner. A highly effective manager has the eye of a chameleon which sees beyond the normal eye, he/she sees in all angles & all directions. Maybe employees seem difficulty simply because the working conditions are unbearable to them. So the best way to act is to solve the root cause like I said above if an oil indicator of your car signals that you are running low on oil then buy another pint of oil before your car boils because if you close the indicator nothing will change.


Also the other strategy you can use when you encounter someone difficult at the workplace just change your attitude or perception towards that person, because negative perceptions to others are equally dangerous in destroying relationships. For example if you view someone as if he/she is an I know everything person who do not agree to any idea of anyone, it’s not healthy because every time that person opens his or her mouth you will think it’s an argument coming out, then you will become defensive before that person say anything, but maybe that person was not about to argue with you. Or if you view someone as a nagging person then each time that person makes a request you will be tempted to think he/she is nagging even when the person is not. So what I am trying to unearth here is that some of the people whom we say are difficulty they are not really difficulty but it’s our perceptions about them, it about the labels we give to our workmates. So the rule is avoid negative perceptions about others, but view everyone positively, and also remember that it will initiate the self-fulfilling prophecy achieved from labeling.
Also get perspectives from others, remember you don’t live in a vacuum but in a community with others then ask for advice when dealing with difficult people, this is because sometimes we tend to solve issue when we are angry and end up adopting wrong decision emanating from our emotions. In all likelihood, your colleagues, managers and friends could have experienced similar situations in some way or another. They will be able to see things from a different angle and offer a different take on the situation. Seek them out, share your story and listen to what they have to say. You might very well find some golden advice in amidst of the conversation and also make use of independent consultancy firms to avoid the incidences of conflicting interests.


Then there is the golden rule of management first look at yourself before you claim that the wrong doer is out there, maybe you are the one who is difficult, as humans it’s our nature that we quickly to point out and denunciate the next person for any cataclysm. A story was told, Brenald was happily married to his wife Joy, then it come to pass when Brenald started saying my wife has a hearing problem because if he calls his wife there was no response at most of the times. Then one day he went to see a doctor together with his wife saying my wife has developed a hearing problem. So the doctor said, before I treat your wife go and do this experiment and come tell me the results. So when Brenald gets home he did exactly what the doctor told him to do, he was in the sitting room and he said, ‘honey what’s for dinner’, there was no response, he reduced the distance up to the kitchen’s door and he said, ‘joy what’s for dinner!’, then no response, reduced the distance again and shout right into joy’s ears, ‘JOYCE WHAT’S FOR DINNER !’, then his wife also shouted into his ears, ‘BRENALD I HAVE TOLD YOU THE THIRD TIME its rice & chicken’. So it was Brenald who had a hearing problem because he failed to hear the responses from his spouse, when they returned to the doctor Brenald’s ears were operated. The moral meaning of the story is that so many times we rush to point out that the next person is the one wrong but we will be the ones wrong.  Management and leadership require someone who focuses much on what he or she is doing to the subordinates. This implies that sometimes managers you are the one who make your subordinates difficult to manage, but you are the first ones to label them difficult and stubborn. So to get along or to get things done with difficult people you need to equip yourself with various leadership or managerial qualities that promote collaboration in the midst of employee miscellany. Follow my next article next week as we divulge into the qualities needed to be an effective manager or leader


Brenald Chinyowa writes on his own capacity,.Feel free to contact him for free advice & consultation on any HR related issues in your Organisation, Also for strategic conferencing facilitation all free of charge.

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