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Working with difficult people

Updated on December 10, 2010

"A difficult person is not someone who simply has a bad day, or someone with whom you have a personality conflict. The individual hard it is, often, with most of the world ".- Barbara Harrison Schmidt.

In the model used by Robbins in the text of "Organisational Behaviour", the factors that influence the performance and results of human resources in organizations is broken down into three levels: individual, group and organizational systems.

The "individual" in his model Robbins called "human input", joined the organization holding personal attributes that characterize it, as are biographical characteristics, personality, knowledge and skills, values and attitudes, needs and motivations, including others. He joins a group and interact with their members through interpersonal communications.

In the "group level" constant interactions occur as a result of fulfilling various tasks, analysis and participation in decision-making, conflict management, integration of teams, among others. His work is directed and coordinated by the head of the group, which connects its members with the rest of the organization through the structure. This level also influence the different "leadership", formal or informal, to act within the group.

At the third level, "organizational systems" as well as the structure, influence the individual's behavior: the design of work processes, technologies, policies and practices in the area of human resources (performance appraisal , compensation, etc..) and the "organizational culture", which identifies the values and behaviors that characterize the "how" things are done in that state.

The "outputs" core of these processes, Robbins called "human performance", presented in four indicators or dimensions: absenteeism, turnover, productivity and job satisfaction.

Many studies show that, under the influence of these processes, there are major changes in the behavior of people. That is, the incorporation of "human resources" to these dynamics is a process of teaching and learning. However, there is also evidence that some people fail to fully integrate and maintain behaviors that are rejected or at least not pleasant for the rest of the members of the organization.

Difficult people.

In an organization works a diverse group of people, which should complement and integrate their efforts to carry out certain tasks that lead to results that are consistent with the objectives and strategies of the organization. Although everyone must work together, rarely have the opportunity to choose their bosses, colleagues or subordinates.

In these circumstances, conflicts may arise between individuals who must work together, but may not like it. Many times, these conflicts may become more important than the common organizational goals, which are the raison d'être of the department, or organization where they are.

While most employees get along with others and do their work without any problem, "difficult people", found in almost any organization, they break the pace, making communication difficult between all bothered others, or simply passively resist. Have the chronic problem of complaints to express a negative view or present a problem behavior in their relationships with others.

The characteristic of these people is that: one, the problem behavior occurs frequently and with more than one person, two, their behavior has a negative effect on their productivity and that of others.

However, we recognize that all people are not as we wish they were (we are not as they would like other people.) Therefore, we must learn to work and live together with everyone.

Strategy for working with difficult people.

Experts recognize that the strategies proposed by Thomas and Killman conflict management such as: avoid, transfer, forcing, compromising, or collaborating, which were analyzed in a previous work, are not completely valid in all circumstances. To "difficult people", apply "special strategies.

Among the works consulted on this subject, I have found a more instructive is signed by Barbara Harrison Schmidt, apparently, is used to guide the analysis and discussion of a video on this topic.

According to the latter study, there are two general approaches to engage with challenging behavior: one, working to "fix" the behavior, two, develop a strategy to handle it. The goal of both approaches is the same, minimizing the problem and maximize the utilization of human resources of an organization. Both include the same four steps, which are summarized below.

Step 1: Identify the problem.

Start by trying to understand the nature of the problem. This means identifying the specific behavior that is unacceptable, determine who comes and how often it occurs. The negative is happening to one person is probably evidence of a personality conflict. Instead of being a "problem behavior," the two people involved must fix it.

Step 2: Examine the relationship.

Examine how the "difficult person" interacts with others provides some clues about possible causes of their behavior. Identify what happens and why it's annoying helps find a possible solution.

Step 3: Determine the cause.

Challenging behavior always has a (s) cause (s), such as: low motivation, personality problems, or general discomfort. If there is no identifiable cause for the person involved or others, you should ignore the behavior.

Step 4: Look for a solution and reach an agreement, with a commitment to achieve this solution.

How to trade with the "difficult person."

Once you have determined the causes of this behavior, the issue should be discussed with the person. Make a plan of approach that best conforms to the nature and severity of the problem, and personality of the individual involved and their relationship with this person, or with others.

For this, we recommend to proceed as follows.

a) Meet with the person. Do it in private so they can analyze situations that may be uncomfortable discussing with the presence of others. In addition, sufficient time to talk about it. Pick a time when you are calm and well prepared for the discussion and at the same time, the other person is accessible.

b) Describe the problem behavior in a non-accusatory. Build on the description of the specific facts, "Alberto, we all do our job, but when all you get is criticism, we feel we're not doing the right thing."

Avoid offering your opinion of why there is a problem, stick to the discussion or problem behavior, rather than the individual's personality. Focus on the negative feelings generated by their behavior on you and others. Finally, choose 1 or 2 negative behaviors to avoid overwhelming the person. These should be behaviors on which the person must do something to remedy them.

c) Use the ability to listen carefully to understand the problem and its causes. Listen carefully includes: 1 - Expressing agreement: "I can see you're surprised and upset about what I just said" 2 - Ask to make sure you are understanding the main ideas: "So, you criticize us for do our jobs better, not because our work is not good. " Passive people need much motivation to start talking. Wait patiently answer your questions and listen with empathy, once you have started talking.

d) State the change of behavior you are looking for. Be clear about what you and others want, but keep an open mind about changing its goal or solution, if appropriate.

e) Have ideas for change and how. He or she will often find the best solutions and are more likely to implement them that they can offer others. Express confidence in the ability of the person to change. Sometimes, if the weather exchange is positive, you might want to ask how you can help.

f) Make a joint action plan. Work toward a solution acceptable to both parties. Reach agreement on specific actions that you or someone else will and set yourself specific time for these actions. Start with short-term goals that can be obtained easily.

g) Specify a date tracking. This will remind both parties of the time when they can review progress in implementing the plan.

h) Follow up. Acknowledge any progress they have made. If there has been no change in problem behavior, re-evaluate the action plan and revise if necessary.


Sometimes, to remedy the problem behavior becomes unrealistic and impractical. In these cases, you can use the strategy to adapt to it. The adjustment is making the most of a difficult situation, minimizing the damage caused by the unwanted behavior.

While learning to successfully adapt to each situation, as in a process of trial and error, there are some general techniques that can be applied to different situations, including in the latter study, we suggest the following:

Stay calm. Do not argue with the other person and not make any accusation.
Listen. Use your ability to listen carefully to verify their understanding of what is being said.
Be firm. Decide in advance what acceptable behavior and what is not and do not be taken beyond this limit.
Be persistent in their responses. This communicates to the difficult person that you really believe what you are saying.
Do not lose confidence, or their ability to interact with others.
Find ways to reduce their relationship with this behavior, or reduce the causes. Consider changing the environment in some way.

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