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5 Tips for Managing Difficult People

Whether you manage four people or 400, chances are, you consider that part of your job the most challenging. Supporting, training, and motivating others while holding them accountable is tough, even if you work with a dream team. But, when someone difficult enters the mix, it can feel downright impossible.

Whether you manage four people or 400, chances are, you consider that part of your job the most challenging. Supporting, training, and motivating others while holding them accountable is tough, even if you work with a dream team. But, when someone difficult enters the mix, it can feel downright impossible.

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There are many types of difficult people in the world, but they all have a few things in common. So, here are some quick tips to help you manage some of your most challenging team members.

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1. Don’t let them drag you down.

A bad attitude can be contagious. In our efforts to empathize, we sometimes find ourselves mirroring back the negativity that others are dishing out. But, don’t get dragged down into the muck by your negative co-worker. Be positive and loving instead, and try not to reward the behavior with too much attention. Maybe you’ll start to rub off on them instead of the other way around.

2. Encourage suggestions.

It’s good to be open to suggestions, and suggestions are very different than criticisms. Too often folks are quick to point out what isn’t working without offering any practical ideas for how to fix things. Explicitly encourage input. If people know their concerns will reliably be met with, “how do you suggest we move forward?” they’ll be less likely to criticize without also offering a plan for improvement. This should change the tone (and probably the frequency) of negative contributions.

3. Invest time in building bridges to negative people.

Somehow, you have to try to connect with everyone that you manage. In order to build trust, increase the positive interactions you have with the difficult person. Find every excuse to provide positive recognition for jobs well done, and collaborate when possible. The more you treat this person with respect and positivity, the harder it gets for them to go the other way.

4. Consider putting them in charge.

It might seem a little crazy, but putting a difficult person in charge of the very thing they’re being difficult about could be the answer. If they feel such passion for the issue, go ahead and try making them the point person. It could help them understand the difficulties a little more, and it will let everyone know that you encourage leadership in problem solving. Folks might be less likely to complain, unless they’re willing to head up the operation, and that could be a very good thing.

5. Be proactive not just reactive.

Difficult people can get us really stirred up, but you have to be the bigger person here. If your interactions become mostly reactions, then you’ve lost too much control. Instead, control your reactions. Stop, take a few deep breaths, and proceed forward once you’re able to do so with compassion and calm.

Next, find a way to proactively handle the situation rather than simply reacting to the complaint. Even if it takes you a few days, resist the urge to jump in with a reaction. Instead, say you need some time to think about this and come back once you’re ready to move things forward in a positive way.

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How do you manage difficult people effectively? We want to hear from you! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.


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