Managing difficult behaviours at the workplace

Workplace Behaviour Wherever there are people, there are challenging relationships

Thu, 14 Sep 2017 Source: Daniel Adjei

Are you a difficult person? I mean you? I know you will say no, but you know many of such people around you. Even the “devil” will never admit he is one.

It seems that wherever there are people, there are challenging relationships. Managers who are controlling or unsupportive Staff who are negative and resistant to change, people who push our buttons or we just don’t get along with although we are all allowed to be human, the quality of our workplace relationships should be a concern for everyone.

A poor relationship with your manager or a co-worker is also number one in contributing to poor morale, decreased productivity, and staff turnover. I am of the firm belief that there are actions we can all take to turn strained relationships around. We are all someone else’s difficult person at times.

Even for those people who are unwilling or incapable of change, there are still actions we can take to limit their impact on us and our colleagues. Over the course of your career, you've probably had more than one villainous colleague or manager – someone who delights in bullying, belittling or sabotaging a coworker. But how many times have you seen someone stand up to the villain and play the part of the hero?

Unlike the movies, in real life (and especially at work) we tend to give the villain the upper hand. We assume we've done something wrong if a colleague or manager is picking on us. Or we go home and stew it over, but we don't actually confront the person. Advertisement So take a tip from the movies – if you're being bullied or victimized at work, it's time to take action. Remember the action movie plot…find the villain and take him down. Your coworkers will thank you for it, and while your aim certainly isn't a company-wide blood bath, a peaceful, pleasant working environment is a pretty worthwhile thing to fight for! These difficult people play a role in an organization as Stakeholders, Team members, Vendors, Users. Their levels may be Senior Managers, Developers, Admin, and Peers.

Degrees of difficulty may be easy to deal with or difficult to deal with.You are in a department for a project and one of your group members is not doing any of the work and has failed to hand in their portion of the assignment.

Meanwhile, there is another group member who is being very controlling and has taken it upon themselves to do the entire project and to edit the work you’ve handed in. As a group member who doesn’t want to do others work but wants to contribute to the group, how would you approach these two people and give them constructive feedback?

In understanding difficult behavior, let us look at what constitutes a difficult behavior according to Ashraf Al-Astal: In general someone exhibits negative behavior with most people, most of the time. In a specific situation, we will say: A colleague exhibiting negative behavior towards you. People are usually a result of conflicting personalities not because of intentional behaviors if you notice someone is more difficult to you than others; it may be because your personalities clash - read more on this from our previous discussion – “Could Your Temperament and Personality Disrupt Your Profession (1 & 2)”. It’s important to remember we can all be difficult whether we mean to or not.

Types of difficult people:


Complainer Sniper



1. Silent People: They are timid people who retreat into their shells to avoid conflict and responsibility. They get away with not talking because most people are uncomfortable with silence and are too quick to fill in the gaps. 2. How to Deal with Silent People: Ask them questions that cannot be answered with just a “yes” or “no”, such as: “Would you please help me understand the problem you are facing?” Wait at least one full minute. Then, if the silent person won’t respond, set another date to discuss the matter.

2.Complainer: These are fearful people who have little faith in themselves or others because they believe in a hostile world. Their constant discouragement and complaining can bring everyone to despair.

How to Deal with Complainers: Don’t try to argue them out of their negativity. Respond with your own optimistic expectations. “I think that everything will turn out great.” “I am sure we will get done on time.”

3. Snipers: These people are experts in pot shots and sneak attacks in subtle ways, such as:

• Humorous put downs

• Sarcastic tones of voice

• Disapproving looks

• Innuendos

How to Deal with Snipers: Respond to the sniper with a question. “That sounds like you’re making fun of me. Are you?” “What are you trying to tell me with that look?” “Did you really mean what you said?” A sniper will usually respond with denial or volley the responsibility to you. “I’m only joking.” “You’re so serious. Can’t you take a joke?” Speaking up lessens the chance of similar attacks in the future.

4. Aggressive People: Overly aggressive people expect others to either:

• Run away from them

• React with rage why are people aggressive? How to Deal with Aggressive People:

• Stand up to them, but don’t fight

• Wait for them to run out of some steam.

• Call the hostile person by name and assert your own opinions with confidence. • “Kwasi, you interrupted me. We can discuss my project scope after you listen to it.” 5. Cranky People: Some people may be purposefully cranky because it helps them get their own way. For others, crankiness is simply a reflection of their own inner turmoil. Why are people cranky?

How to Deal with Cranky People:

• Try to determine the real message the person is telling you.

• Are you any part of the problem?

• What can you change about your own behavior? • Don’t remain silent. Agree with any part of the cranky person’s statement that may be true.

• In a neutral tone of voice say, “Would you please speak to me in a calmer tone - Kojo. Now let us consider more tips to help deal with these challenges at the workplace: the four Strategies. What is a strategy by the way? My simple answer is how to do something.The four Strategies:

Change YOUR Attitude

Change THEIR Attitude

Take a Stand


Check your perception:

• See beyond “difficult”

• Understand their point of view

• Change YOUR Attitude

Understand why they are difficult:

• Show them another angle

• Help them see you as a person

• Change THEIR Attitude

Take a Stand - used when:

• Your attitude is not the problem

• You cannot change their attitude

• It goes beyond attitude to hurtful actions

• Running is too costly

How to Take a Stand:

• Understand your options

• Develop a strategy Confront and collaborate (good guy) the “or else” (bad guy)

• Take action

• Persevere – don’t give up


• Last resort and very costly in an organizations

• Nothing you can do about the situation

• Used when you have nothing to gain from: Change YOUR Attitude, Change THEIR Attitude and Take a Stand.

A difficult person’s behavior is habitual. He behaves this way with most people. Don’t take the difficult person’s behavior personally.

Don’t make excuses for the difficult person’s behavior. Think of other people who have faced adversity and have not become difficult. You lose control when you make excuses for difficult people.

Don’t try to beat them at their own game. They have been practicing their skills for a long time, and you are a beginner by comparison. Don’t fight back. Don’t try to appease them. It won’t work because difficult people have an insatiable appetite for more. You can’t change other people. You can only change your response to their behavior.

By changing your responses, they may decide to change…or they may not. However, you will feel better. Don’t try to change the difficult person.Next week God willing we will discuss another perspective of Managing Difficult Behaviours at the Workplace with more details from different angles, until then the power is yours.

Columnist: Daniel Adjei