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Handling Difficult People Skills

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Posted 06 December 2011 by Chris FarmerChris Farmer

Personal Development Courses

We offer both:
• Bespoke in-house training.
These can be tailored to your specific needs.
• Open training courses at locations near you.
You may find the following will help with the training of your team leaders and managers.

Handling difficult people skills

Handling difficult people skills is an important part of your leadership-management skills.

If you develop and refine your abilities to handle the difficult people that are at your place of work, then, each month, you will save yourself many hours of painful, fruitless effort. As a result you will increase your productivity.

But if you fail to successfully handle difficult people, then you will be forever doomed to struggle with them. The result will be that: the difficult people will rob you of your productivity.

So, please learn the following rules on how to handle the difficult people that are at your place of work.

There are fundamentally four ways to handle difficult people:

  1. According to the principles of reason.
  2. According to how they make you feel: i.e. angry.
  3. According to how they make you feel: i.e. upset, tearful.
  4. Avoid the whole thing: because handling difficult people is too difficult.

Can we agree that the only proper way forward, is option number 1?

When you are dealing with difficult people at work:

  1. Don't lose your temper and say too much.
  2. Don't go home and fret over the problem caused by the difficult person.
  3. Don't bury your head in the sand and hope that, if you do nothing, the problem will go away.

The proper way to handle difficult people is: According to the principles of reason.

But what does THAT mean?

It means you must take the right steps, in the right order.

What steps, in what order?

Here are the notes:

Step One: Know your purpose

Know what you want from this conflict communication.
When you are approaching the difficult person, reaffirm to yourself your purpose.

In a work context: (assuming the offence is not a criminal one), your purpose is to: Change their behaviour.

  1. Your purpose is NOT to get emotional and blow off steam
  2. Your purpose is NOT to find out WHY he acts the way he does, (NOT to psychoanalyse his motives)
  3. Your purpose is NOT to "put him in his place"
  4. Your purpose is NOT to exact revenge for what he has done

Your purpose is to change his (her) behaviour.

Step Two: NAME the BEHAVIOUR that you do not want

Tell the person what he/she is doing "wrong".

  • Be objective, not subjective.
  • Be specific, not vague.

Tell him exactly what he has done wrong.


  1. You didn't call be when you said you would.
  2. You left the door wide-open all day.
  3. You were swearing in the reception of that company.

Conflict Management

Conflict Management Training

Conflict is inevitable, because people disagree. Therefore, you must be able to handle conflict situations effectively. You must know how to be assertive, clear and professional (not emotional, upset and angry) whilst in conflict. If you want to learn more on how to achieve this, please click here to see our conflict management training.

Step Three: Tell them what would be "right"

Tell the person what would be "right" in this situation. Give them the way out of the conflict.

  • Be objective
  • Be reasonable

Make an affirmative statement that tells him what you want him to do instead.
Tag this statement directly onto the end of the statement you made at point 2.

Leave no gaps between the two statements:
Use the phrase "Instead of that, next time, would you please...."

You didn't call me when you said you would.
Instead of that, next time, would you please call me and tell me that you are not going to make the appointment.

You left the door wide-open all day.
Instead of that, next time, would you please........... When you leave, ensure that you lock the door.

You were swearing in the reception of that company. Instead of that, next time, would you please, make sure your language is polite when you are on work business?"

Step Four: Ask them to commit

Can they make the change from the wrong behaviour to the right?

Ask him to make the jump from the "wrong box" to the "right box".

You were swearing in the reception of that company ( wrong box) Instead of that, next time, would you please, when you are on work business, make sure your language is polite at all times." (Right box)

Would you do that?"

If he says YES, then you say: "Thanks, I appreciate it".

If he says NO, or fails to commit.

Ask "Why not?"

Then the difficult person will start talking

He will give you his explanation WHY he cannot or will not comply with your request at step 4.
At this point in the conversation: you must LISTEN carefully and judge carefully:


Whether what they are saying constitutes:

  1. A reason for not doing what you are asking,
  2. Or merely an Excuse for not doing what you are asking

Question: Is there a difference between a REASON and an EXCUSE, for not doing something?

You bet there is a difference! A reason is true, logical, undeniable and unavoidable.

An excuse is none of these. (i.e. an excuse is untrue, illogical, dishonest or avoidable).

You have to classify their answer into one of two categories: either:

  1. The reason they cannot change, or
  2. The excuse they use to avoid changing

Distinguish between reasons and excuses and have a different policy for each.

IF the person is giving good reasons for not doing what you ask:
Then compromise, negotiate and find the middle ground.

If the person is giving you only excuses for not doing what you ask:
Then don't compromise and don't negotiate and don't find the middle ground.

Instead: Use the magic phrase

"I understand BLANK but the fact is "WRONG BOX" and go back to step two. Repeat what he has done wrong and repeat the request for an alternative action.

The BLANK in the sentence above denotes "Whatever the difficult person said as his excuse".


You say:
You were swearing in the reception of that company. Instead of that, next time, would you please, when you are on work business, make sure your language is polite at all times?"

Would you do that?"

He says:
I can't.

You say:

Why can't you be polite?

He says:
"Because I'm going through a lot of stress right now".

You use the magic phrase:

"I understand THAT YOU ARE GOING THROUGH A LOT OF STRESS RIGHT NOW, but the fact is you were swearing using the F word, in the reception of our client: within hearing of their receptionist. I need you to use ONLY polite language when you are on calls.

You understand that don't you?"

Repeat the: "Wrong box / right box / commit to change", sequence in the same order.

You need to gain the reputation for responding positively to one of two things:

  1. Commitments to improvements in performance
  2. Or dammed good reasons why they can't.

But you MUST NOT gain a reputation for dishing out concessions or compromising with those people who give you only their excuses.

Step Five: Give plenty of praise and appreciation

Thank those who do commit to a change.
Appreciation for good work is essential but often forgotten.
Tell them immediately when they have got it right.
Ask for more of the same.

Always praise and appreciate good work, and you will encourage more of it.

For more information about handling difficult people visit the Corporate Coach Group website

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