• CDT Staff

Top 5 Ways to Manage Difficult Behavior in the Workplace


By: Megan O'Leary


If your life is free from difficult customers, co-workers, bosses, or subordinates then read no further! If, however, you find yourself dealing with any of these people in your workplace, read on, as this will give you some tips on how to identify, understand, and cope with difficult people in your workplace and beyond. Using specific techniques and methods in your encounters with difficult behavior can diffuse situations, improve working relationships, foster productivity, and leave you feeling more empowered.


Some basic steps to follow and allow you to better deal with difficult behaviors are to:


Assess the Situation and Remain Calm- Do your best to not take the difficult behavior personally. If the behavior arises in conflict and you are finding it tough to remain rational and composed, it may be necessary to put some space between yourself and the difficult behavior. You can do this while acknowledging what is being said and the feelings behind it with a statement like, “I hear what you’re saying, and I understand you are upset, but I think it would be a good idea if we took a moment to allow emotions to calm down.” You must commit to follow up with the situation or behavior and refrain from putting too much space or time between confronting it again.


Actively Listen- If you can remain rational and composed, listen to what is being said by practicing Active Listening .This is when you try to not only hear the words that are being said, but the complete message being communicated. This will require you to ignore distractions and refrain from thinking of any counter arguments that may be formulating in your head. You can reflect that you are actively listening with your body language and by repeating what is being said with a statements like “What I am hearing is…,” or by asking them to clarify with “What do you mean when you say..” Always allow them to speak without interrupting or asking questions.


Resist Arguing- Either in a heated situation, or dealing with difficult behavior in general, arguing will only exasperate things. Instead of arguing, you can apply what is called the Socratic method . Listening and asking questions will always lead people to their own better conclusions. By allowing them to draw out the real issues around their difficult behavior, and develop solutions, you step away from “telling them how things are, or what to do.” It is more effective to lead someone to their own solutions and other perspectives, rather then telling them what you think they should be.



Show Compassion and Empathy- Saying you are sorry, empathizing with their feelings, or taking ownership of your part in the difficult behavior can go a long way. A lot of times difficult behavior may come out because of outside circumstances. Acknowledging feelings, rather then dismissing them (whether you think they are valid or not), can allow people to see past those feelings and emotions.


Avoid Passive Aggression- It is natural to want to avoid conflict, or a difficult person altogether, but this can often complicate things even further and exasperate the difficult behavior. If the person is someone you see regularly, you may be able to identify if their behavior is out of the norm, or if you are dealing with someone who regularly displays difficult behavior. If someone is regularly displaying difficult behaviors, then it is important to be proactive and engage the person in a conversation about their behavior. Being proactive and formulating a calculated approach to addressing their behavior will allow you to have better control over the conversation, rather than having to face it in inevitable future conflict.


Though you may not always be able to prevent or control difficult behavior, you can change the nature of the interaction you are involved in by changing your own reactions and behaviors towards the difficult person. These 5 ways to manage difficult behavior will allow you to minimize conflict and foster a culture of open communication.