Lesson 11 – Dealing With Difficult People

The Four Fears

Causes of Difficult Behaviours

According to psychologist Shirley Winslow, PhD, of the University of Alberta, we all have four fears. They are the fear of failure, fear of humiliation or embarrassment, fear of losing power and the fear of rejection. These fears often cause us to act in inappropriate ways that make us difficult for others to deal with.

Can you think of any other causes of difficult behaviour? Something that drive one person crazy may not bother another person in the least. This brings us to another conclusion; we are all likely to be difficult for others to handle.

What characteristics of people make them difficult for us to deal with? Answers may include: they are negative, they complain and they say hurtful things. What are the weapons they use against us? Anger; tears; silence? What are our Coping Strategies?

We have already described to some extent the tactics we could use to deal with most people. However, the old 80/20 rule says that 80% of our problems will come from 20% of our employees, or of our clients. So how do we deal with them?

Try this:

  • S: Smile
  • O: Open gestures
  • F: Forward lean
  • T: Touch
  • E: Eye contact
  • N: Nod

Difficult people can be categorised, therefore providing us with various strategies to deal with them. You can look at various books on the subject where you will find descriptions of these characteristics and suggested ways of dealing with them.

Problem Customer Why It Happens What To Do About It
  • Can’t or won’t see the other side
  • Indicate your willingness to talk with them.
  • If you know you are right, be persistent.
The Quiet One
  • Bored
  • Indifferent
  • Timid
  • Introvert
  • Gain interest by asking for opinion.
  • Compliment the person when they contribute.
  • Indicate respect for the person’s experience, and then ask for ideas.
The Heckler
  • Good natured, but is distracted by job or personal problems
  • Keep your temper.
  • Honestly agree with one idea, and then move on to something else.
The Rambler
  • Has good ideas but doesn’t get to the point
  • When there is a pause, thank this person, summarise the point made, refocus the attention, and move on.
  • In a friendly manner, indicate that you strayed from the subject.
Wrong Track
  • Brings up incorrect ideas
  • Say, “That’s one way of looking at it, “and tactfully make corrections.
  • Say, “I hear your point, but can we deal with our current situation?”
Personality Problems
  • Some personalities just clash
  • Maximize points of agreement; minimize disagreements. Draw attention to the objective at hand.
  • Frankly state those personalities should be left out of the discussion.
  • Involve your supervisor.
The Conversationalist
  • Side chatter is usually personal, but distracting.
  • Don’t embarrass them.
  • Call this person by name and ask an easy question.
The Know-It-All
  • Highly motivated
  • Show off
  • Well informed
  • Just plain talkative
  • Slow this person down with some difficult questions.
  • Be prepared! Have documentation ready.
  • Have confidence in yourself and your ability to do your job.
The Complainer
  • Has a pet peeve
  • Gripes
  • Has a legitimate complaint
  • Point out the solution to the problem at hand is to operate as efficiently and cooperatively as possible to get the problem solved.
  • Give emphasis to their concerns.


3 Tips on Dealing with Difficult People