Six tips to deal with difficult characters

We are a social species and in general most people find they can get along pretty well with most of the people they meet.  However, when a group of people are thrown together in the workplace sometimes there are one or two characters who don’t fit in as well as the others.  These people are often strong characters and their personal beliefs are more important to them than the quality of their relationships with others.

Difficult characters come in different types.  Here are some common ones:

  • The bully – who gets angry and swears a lot
  • The silent bully – who agrees things to your face and then stirs up trouble behind your back
  • The fault-finder – who is always critical and nit-picking of anything anyone else does
  • The moaner and whinger – who blames others for everything and is persistently negative.

As a leader, even of just a small department in an organisation, it is your job to deal with these characters.  If you don’t, the whole team will suffer and lose energy while it focusses on the conflict rather than getting the job done.

So how do you deal with them?  Well each type often needs handling in specific ways but there are some common elements:

1.    Always collect evidence before you challenge these behaviours.  Make sure you are clear on your ground.  If necessary, rehearse your views before meeting them and write down your arguments. Maintain your own self-esteem and be consistently positive and fair.

2.    If someone is aggressive, don’t rise to the bait.  Be assertive but stay in control, and if necessary walk away rather than let it turn into a slanging match.

3.    Avoid letting an argument get personal. Use terms like “it seems that” or “this is the impression I am getting”.

4.    Write down any agreed actions from a meeting and share it with all involved to ensure there is no room to wriggle out of commitments.

5.    If the conflict is between two colleagues, get both people in a room with you to talk through the issues.  Set the ground rules to avoid it getting personal.  Intervene to stop the discussion if it gets heated and remind them of the ultimate goal.  Make sure both sides have their say fairly.  Stay in control of the discussion and demand mutual respect for everyone’s opinions.  Ask questions like “why” to bring out the thought processes behind their behaviour.  Look for the shared goals and emphasise that you are all working towards them.

And # 6.  Of course, if you find yourself consistently unable to support someone’s behaviour, you have to be prepared to take disciplinary proceedings against them.  Remember that the ultimate goal is the success of the company and if someone is unable to support this they cannot stay.

If you are interested in learning more about dealing with difficult characters you may be interested in our Personal and Professional Impact course.