Dealing With Difficult People

It happens! We are all different and yet need to collaborate to achieve a successful Project. The more we understand this issue, the better we can deal with it. Conflicts in the workplace can be destructive and cause the following serious problems, and more…

Stress, Absenteeism, Turnover, Bullying or Harassment, Violence, Lawsuits & other Issues

Obviously, we want to establish and maintain a positive & productive workplace, but face challenges in getting there. Some conflicts are personality based, while others are situationally based (e.g. competition for resources, or, where a normally calm person acts under stress or other pressures). Also, unclear workplace norms allow poor behaviour to flourish.

Some Sources of Conflict in the Workplace

  • Conflicting Priorities
  • Competition for resources
  • Unclear rules or procedures
  • Pressures and Stressful situations
  • Historic issues
  • Personality conflicts
  • Power issues
  • Personal issues

Short Shots-Five Quick Notes for Conflict Resolution

1-Keep your cool and manage the situation

2-Decide is this worth responding to? Sometimes ignoring, or avoiding, is a strategy, especially if it’s trivial, or can be dealt with more effectively, later. Pick Your Battles, as well as their time and place.

3-Respond with Assertiveness-Shine a light on their behaviour-“I hear what you want, however, when you speak to me like that, I don’t like it, and it gets in the way of my helping you. I’d like to help you, so in future, here’s what I’d like to do…”

4-Refocus on the facts-Often bullies want their way, even where they are not justified in having it. Point out the facts, calmly and assertively why they can’t have their way. You may need to stand your ground and repeat the facts a number of times. Their bluster doesn’t change facts.

5-Slow them down-reply to a rude comment calmly with, “Pardon me?”, or “Run that by me again.” Like an attempted “drive by shooting off of the mouth.” It’s seldom repeated the same way. They may rephrase or tone down the comment. If they don’t, you are justified in telling them to come back later.

Strategies to Prevent or Address Poor Behaviour and Workplace Conflict

Setting the Workplace Environment

Top workplaces don’t just have a “Teamwork” plaque on the wall, they

  • Include communication, collaboration, interpersonal skills in their policies, practices & selections
  • Stress these themes and positive problem solving with Staff in orientations, and other venues
  • Reinforce these consistently themes in your Leadership behaviours

The more such expectations are reinforced, the more likely they are to be followed by Staff. It works!

Film Crew Leaders can stress Respectful Workplace norms & then model them. If you know you have any somewhat outspoken or abrasive Crew Member, an early, tactful chat may be advisable, especially if they are usually well-meaning. If they are just cranky & rude, however, your message must be stronger.

Assertiveness and Personal Conflicts

Assertiveness has a number of very effective strategies to address & reduce personal conflict situations.

You have heard of the “Fight or Flight” reaction we have when confronted and upset. The Fight reaction is Aggressive. It can be confrontational, messy and destructive in a workplace. The Flight reaction is Passive and can result in stress and ineffective working relationships.

The Assertive approach is a practical, collaborative approach that produces allows you to,

  • Hold your ground
  • Engage the other person, and,
  • Collaborate on results.

It’s not perfect, and sometimes doesn’t work, but much better than Fight or Flight. When confronted by a challenging or abrasive person…

Assertive Strategies

Abrasive or bullying people are not used to others standing up to them or offering to cooperate on terms other than their own. Here are some practical assertive strategies. To address situations assertively, there are three basic steps to take…

  1. Acknowledge that you have hear and understood their point of view
  2. State your point of view
  3. State what you want to have happen

Through these steps, there are actions you can take to more effectively manage situations.

1 – Listen and acknowledge that you hear and understand. Avoid negative responses-aggressive people get them all the time, and ignore them.

Methods to get their attentionconfirm that you have heard and understood them.

“I know it’s essential to get that by tomorrow!”


  • clarifies key points
  • slows down their momentum, and,
  • eliminates the need for them to repeat their request.

Aggressive people may face a lot of opposition & use repeated requests or urgency to emphasize their point. We need to slow them down, take charge of the situation & clarify that their point is understood.

Listening builds respect. You need to be clear that, while sympathetic to their request, there are reasons why it may not happen.

2 – State your point of view-Explain the problem that exists in agreeing to their request.

“I am working on a task my Manager has as a priority, and cannot do both by tomorrow morning.” Or, “When you speak to me that way, it gets me upset and gets in the way of helping you.”

You also need to be clear, that, while sympathetic to their need, there is more to the situation than their request. You can preface this with the phrase, “However…” which brings in other aspects. Don’t use the word “But” that is a stopping word. You are trying to keep the conversation going, not escalating it.

  • Request a full hearing of your point of view
  • Send “I” messages
  • Be silent, give them time to reflect and respond. They may restate a more moderate request
  • Use active listening. Show them you heard them the first time.

3 – State what you would like to have happen-Keeping a positive approach, offer an alternative that you may be able to accommodate. “Here is what I suggest we do.”

“If you wish to speak to my Manager about priorities, you can.” Or, “Let me know what are the key parts of the job needed for the morning, and I’ll let you know if I can do those.”

Restate the problem if necessary–Calmly repeat your needs. Then engage in collaborative problem-solving. Be prepared to shift back & forth between Active Listening & Positive Assertion. Be persistent.

Assertive Communication Tools & Techniques

An assertive approach opens a door to resolve the issue if possible. (If it’s possible!)

Saying No-If their request will not be met, you need to let them know immediately. This can stop, or at least slow them down, especially if they are used to an aggressive style and expect others to agree just to avoid conflict. You are being honest, and are clarifying the situation.

“No, I can’t do that, so let’s discuss what can get done.”

Repeat your original statementThe Broken Record Technique- is to repeat your initial point.

Aggressive persons often disregard the views of others and try to steamroller other people. This refocuses your point, (which hasn’t changed). Don’t let the other person sidetrack you. Return to, and restate your original position.

“As I indicated to you a moment ago, I am working on a priority for my Manager.” Or, “I hear you, and understand how important it is, however, that doesn’t change the priority may Manager has given me.”

Positive Assertion/ Workable Compromise-Focus on what can get accomplished. Consider what possibilities exist for both parties to get what they want.

“I can address it after 4 pm and spend time on it. After that I have to pick up my kids. If you can prepare part of it for me, I can do the rest first thing in the morning.” (Same answer below)

Negotiations-While you may not be able to accommodate their request, there might be things each of you could do to solve the problem. Here, you may want to ensure they understand that discussion of their request, does not mean agreeing to it. It is a negotiation, where each side needs to agree.

“I can address it after 4 pm and spend time on it. After that I have to pick up my kids. If you can prepare part of it for me, I can do the rest first thing in the morning.”

Reframing-Paraphrase or reframe the request to confirm that it is clear.

Are you saying that, despite my telling you I could not do that project after Monday, here it is Thursday and you what me to drop other priorities to address this now?”

We sometimes need to clarify all aspects of the issue to get the other person to realize the position they are suggesting. Aggressive persons don’t really care much about your problems, but they still exist. This can be a stopping moment and give you both time to reframe.

Positive Inner Dialogue-Often referred to as “self-talk”, this is an assertive approach in which you coach yourself to respond appropriately to upcoming situations. (Often we may be in situations where we later reflect on thinking, “I should have said this.” of, “I should have replied that way.”

Often we don’t respond assertively because we are surprised by the request, or unnerved by the person’ aggressive manner.

Think ahead to possible situations you may face and have an inner dialogue with yourself as to how you will approach them.

Summary of Assertiveness

Assertive communication is a practical and respectful approach to reducing conflict in the workplace and managing situations much more effectively. It is a positive influencing approach that,

  • Respects you and other persons
  • Respects alternate points of view
  • Manages conflict within a practical framework
  • Provides guidelines for effective communication
  • Enables you to maintain poise and self-control in challenging situations

Handling Interpersonal Conflict-Five Options

As well as the Assertive approach, these response options each have a place where they are best used.

Assertive Problem Solving   -engaging the person in an assertive manner. E.g. I hear you, however, this is what I’d like to do. Use-Where there is some common ground and goal, and some likelihood of success.
Confronting/Forcing your point   Use-Where negative consequences will result if you don’t address it. When they are clearly wrong.
Avoiding   Use-Where the consequences of addressing it now are higher that postponing it until later.
Yielding   Use-Where the issue is trivial or not significant enough for you to be concerned about it.
Compromising   Use- Where there are enough common interests to make a deal.

Any person capable of angering you becomes your master: they can anger you only when you permit yourself to be disturbed by them.-Epictetus