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Difficult people exist in all walks of life. In many situations it is very easy to avoid communicating with difficult people by simply walking away. However, when managing a team, you may have to work closely with difficult people. Here we provide some practical advice.


Examine your own behaviour

Take time to think about if the team member is actually difficult to work with. Are you overreacting? Think about your own personality traits. Are you quick to offend? It is important to determine whether the thing you are finding difficult is really the result of the person’s actions.

Remember we all have ‘off days’

Professional or personal issues may lead to people behaving badly within a team. Sometimes patience is all that is needed to support a team member through a difficult time. Rather than an unsympathetic response or ignoring their behaviour completely, why not ask them how they are?

By remaining positive and showing your support, you may get to the bottom of the cause of their behaviour and the person’s behaviour may improve in gratitude for your support

Focus on what the person can contribute

The best teams often have the most diverse members. Different types of people bring different strengths to the table. However diversity within the team can often mean a mix of different personalities and approaches. Identifying what type of person you are dealing with can help you communicate better and get the best out of that team member.

The more your energy is focused on how difficult the person is, the more your attention will be drawn to the person’s faults. You have already identified that this person is a challenge to work with, now work out how they best fit into your team, engage and involve them

Keep positive

Negative team members can be emotionally draining, distracting yourself and your team. Sometimes they are not even aware of their negative impact.  With such a draining force it takes a lot of energy to try to remain positive. You can retain a lot of control over the situation by simply listening to the negative team member. Allow the person some venting time, 4 -5 minutes maximum. There is no need for you to agree with what they are saying, but don’t stay silent.

When a negative statement is made, take a positive spin.  If the venting goes beyond 4 – 5 minutes and your positive words seem to be washing over the person, don’t be afraid to move the conversation on. Acknowledge their complaints but advise that wallowing in self-pity does not help anyone, including you, and tell them to move on.  Take control of the situation by remaining positive towards the person but firm about the task at hand.

Dealing with aggression

Working with an aggressive or passive aggressive person is always difficult. This person may be a bully or have a serious deficiency in communicating in any other way than aggressively. In these situations it is important to maintain your composure. The more emotional you are, the less rationally you behave.  The less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgment to handle the situation. You don’t need to butt heads to stand your ground.

Stick to the facts and have confidence in what you are saying. If you are not happy with how the person is addressing you be sure to have a quiet word with them one on one. Don’t make a spectacle.  If the aggressive behaviour has become a regular occurrence be sure to carefully document specific incidents.

If all else fails and you have exhausted all avenues of working with this person, it is time to take formal action against the person (by way of the disciplinary or capability process) which may result in the end of the working relationship.


In Summary 

When dealing with a difficult person it is important to remain in control of yourself and think clearly.


  • Keep your emotions in check
  • Weigh up the ‘difficult behaviour’ could you be overacting?
  • Could there be a reason for your team member’s behaviour?
  • Try to resolve the situation informally though one on one communication but if all methods are exhausted it is time to take formal steps to reach a resolution or end the working relationship.

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If you require further advice for taking formal action against an employee please speak to Tom Evans on 0151 230 1217 or email him


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