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How to Handle Difficult People

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Posted 14 September 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.

How to handle difficult people

Advanced people management training
Everyone in a management position should be able to effectively handle difficult people.

Sadly though, many managers don't do this very well.

  • Some managers can make matters worse by the clumsy use of their language.
  • Some other managers are "too nice" and are a push-over.
  • Other managers run away from difficult people.

Let us investigate the matter:

How should you handle difficult people?

First, let us define the phrase "difficult people".

There are three ways that you may find other people "difficult".

Here are the three ways:

1. The other person has the rotten habit of believing in things that you don't, and NOT believing in things of which you are certain.

Example: you believe in socialism and that taxes on businesses should be increased to fund more benefits for the poor.

And yet, he does not believe in socialism and believes that business should not be taxed, so they have more money to invest in growth that will create more employment for the poor.

Obviously he is wrong, and is just being deliberately difficult!

2. The other person has different artistic tastes:

What you think looks good, he thinks looks ugly, what you think is acceptable, he thinks is Un-acceptable.

3. The other person is LAZY, DISHONEST, or THREATENING

These people (folk who are Lazy, dishonest, and threatening) are the worst!
It is important to categorise people into one (or more) of these three groups.
Each category of difficult person is to be treated with a different medicine.

1. The other person has the rotten habit of believing in things that you don't

Example: You believe in socialism, he does not.

In the case of intellectual, political or religious difference, my advice would be:

Don't argue with him for entertainment value.

Don't try to make him "see sense".

Let him carry on in his deluded world, and you can carry on in the "real world".

These types of differences between people are intractable, and the policy is "let sleeping dogs lie".

2. The other person has different artistic tastes

What you think looks good, he thinks looks bad.

Differences in taste in aesthetics are similar to differences in politics, economics and religion.
You should NOT try to convert adult people into your version of "good taste" and "good style".
You should "live and let live" to the degree that you can: UNLESS this issue is affecting work performance.

IF his sense of style is impinging on his work performance, then you should make your point, according to the six principles listed later in this article.


If he thinks the sixties styles were better than today's, and that the Beatles were the best boy band ever, then; who cares?

But if he works on the reception desk, and he thinks that it is his right to come to work in flip flops a tee shirt, and cut off baggies then, you have every right to step in, according to the six principles listed later: (see below)

3. The other person is LAZY, DISHONEST, or THREATENING

These three forms of difficult people cannot be left to stand unchallenged by you.
You must always challenge people who are Lazy, dishonest or threatening.


Because you are paying them for their productivity, not because they need the money.
They have had the money: now you must obtain their productivity.


Because any business relies on the concept of fair trade: any violation of the concept of fair trade corrupts the organisations purpose, function and future.

Dishonesty in any of its forms is a corrupting influence.

"Dishonesty" itself can be split into three subset forms: thus:

  1. Dishonesty in terms of lying (making false statements)
  2. Dishonesty in terms of violating property rights (theft, fraud, deception)
  3. Dishonesty in terms of evasion, i.e. refusing to accept bad news as true.(Example "The Titanic is not sinking because the Titanic is unsinkable"

All form of dishonesty must be tackled by you, according to the six principles listed below.


This means: Any threat or implied threat of physical force.

This includes:

  • Physical abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Threatening words

Threatening gestures, such as pointing fingers or making fists.


Threatening behaviour does not include: Telling people the painful consequences of their actions. Example: "If you are late, one more time, without good cause, I will initiate disciplinary action" does NOT amount to "threat of force".

"Threat" here pertains to the use or the implied use of physical violence, not economic sanctions.

All form of threatening behaviour must be tackled by you, according to the six principles listed below.
What are the six principles of handling difficult people, you keep talking about?

Answer: Here are the six principles of handling those difficult people.

1. Do it soon

Do not let too much time pass between the bad behaviour and your intervention.
Waiting too long implies a sanction for the poor behaviour.
Waiting too long will weaken your presentation when you do, finally, get round to it.
Do it within the first 24 hrs.

2. Be specific

Name the exact behaviour.
Don't generalise.
The more specific you make your language, the better for both of you.
The vaguer and more abstract you make your language, the worse it gets.


"You are pointing your finger at me as you speak: please stop that" Is a better use of language than "I don't like your attitude, I find it threatening"

3. Manage your own body language and voice tone

Don't break the rules, yourself: don't point. Don't cry, don't swear, and don't threaten.

You could be right and still lose, if you use the wrong methods.

4. Always give a corrective action

Telling people what they are doing wrong is not enough. You must always give the corrective action.

Example: "You didn't phone me to say you're not coming, why not?"
Is not as good as
"You didn't phone me to say you're not coming, NEXT TIME, please phone me and tell me you aren't coming. Okay?

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.

5. Remember that you do NOT always have to find a compromise

There is a belief that you should "always try to find the middle ground, always find a compromise"

This is a false belief.

Make some of your standards NOT open to compromise.

For example:

  1. There is no middle ground on issues of theft.
  2. No middle ground on issues of bullying.
  3. No middle ground on issues of dishonesty.

Here is a question for you to ponder

What three things, for you, at work, are non-negotiable?

When you know them, stick to them: Don't negotiate away your non-negotiables!

6. Remember that you might be wrong

Many people are just plain stubborn!

They have reached a certain age and now they KNOW they are right!
They have reached a certain age, and now they know they are NEVER wrong!

In fact, these people are unsure as to why they are not running the whole PLANET.
"If I ruled the world, then it would be a much better place........By far!

But maybe not.

Maybe it is ME who is wrong.
As you get older, leave the door open to new learning.

Don't become too certain, too stubborn.

Try to see it from the others point of view.
If you think he is too old fashioned, then maybe he is right to be!
Keep your mind able to accept the possibility of error, and don't be afraid to change your mind, or your method, if a better way is made apparent.

To grow, you should evolve new ideas: adapt and change.

To grow, be should be prepared to discard old certainties and lose some long cherished but false beliefs.
It's not easy.
But it can be fun.

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

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