Managing Difficult People with Grace: What Leaders Should Keep in Mind

July 5, 2022


Dealing with difficult people in the workplace can be draining. It can create significant miscommunications, affect productivity, create a hostile work environment, and lead to higher turnover rates. In addition, challenging people can devastate morale in the workplace. 

As a leader, you must be able to field complaints and reasonable disagreements, resolve conflicts, and present solutions to your team. Practical communication skills are one of the best tools against difficult team members. Often, a great deal of workplace conflict comes from a communication breakdown. Sometimes communication styles can get lost in translation and don’t match up. Other times there is a general lack of communication among team members altogether. This means that pertinent information isTy by not expressed or relayed to the appropriate person, causing a big disconnect. 

How To Deal With Difficult People

Effective communication is clear and concise. It establishes expectations so everyone can understand their defined role and the roles of their team members. It allows everyone to work holistically toward a common goal or specific result in unity. Unfortunately, learning how to deal with difficult people isn’t always as simple as putting your strong communication skills to work. Sometimes, things like personality conflicts, pessimism, jealousy, or even personal issues can negatively impact productivity and morale in the workplace. This can present a new challenge because those issues are more complex to deal with in a professional setting. Nonetheless, as a leader, you must manage the difficult people on your team with poise, compassion, and fairness.  

Below are three strategies for a comprehensive approach to dealing with difficult people for a harmonious and productive work environment. 

  1. It’s Not Your Fault 

We all know someone who always seems moody and negative no matter the circumstances. This is especially noticeable in the workplace when you are around a group of people for long periods daily. There is usually a person with a general, long-standing lousy attitude. They are always complaining, gossiping, or discontent about something. If you take the brunt of that employee's bad mood, try not to take it personally. Often a negative attitude is a symptom of their unhappiness with themselves. Continue trying to communicate clearly and calmly, despite their response or behavior. 

  1. Be Assertive

Be assertive, not aggressive. It is never ok to tolerate poor or disrespectful behavior, especially in a leadership role. Let the employee know that their behavior is unacceptable. Ensure you communicate your desire to help them with the project or process. But express that you can only do that if they manage their tone and be respectful. 

  1. Develop Rapport

Sometimes a problematic employee isn’t so difficult once you've gotten to know them.  While it may take some time, try to find opportunities to develop a relationship with them. Without being intrusive, ask questions and try to discover their interests, likes/dislikes, hobbies, etc. This technique can break down barriers. 

The Role Of Communication In Dealing With Difficult People 

The key to dealing with difficult people is communicating about productivity and morale issues. It’s essential to focus on specific behavioral examples rather than the person or personality of the problematic person. Choosing the right words and presenting your concerns clearly and dignifiedly will decrease the chance of a defensive response. Ask yourself: how can I calmly address this issue? How can I articulate the problem professionally and respectfully? What result do I hope to achieve from a conversation with this person? Once you’ve set a clearly defined plan, put your communication skills to work. With the right gentle approach, your “problem employee” can start to become part of the solution. 

Dealing with a problematic employee isn’t just a leadership concern. It affects colleagues and coworkers too. Visit for more information on training conferences to help administrative staff. You can acquire tools to deal with stress or tension in the workplace. 

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