How To Deal With Difficult Colleagues

One of the most common but often the most challenging things you will have to deal with as a leader or manager is difficult colleagues.

It does not matter what organisation you work in or what sector you operate in, there is always going to be people who are or are least perceived to be difficult.

In my experience there is always going to be a small minority who fit the difficult colleague label.

On the other hand there may well be others who you have decided fit into this box.

So let’s take a look at what a difficult colleague is and is not.

The following in my opinion are not difficult colleagues:

• People who have a different point of view

• People who perhaps have a different style or manner of dealing with things than you

• People who have a natural tendency to say it how they see it

• People who only give respect when it is gained

• People who don’t just go with the flow to keep the peace

Difficult colleagues in my experience tend to be those who:

• Are not willing to adapt or compromise under any circumstances

• Actively go out of their way to destroy anyone who does not buy into their way

• Deliberately put in blocks when you try to move things forward

• Adopt standards of behaviour that are out of line with what the organisation expects

So how do you deal with those difficult colleagues?

The first tip I would give is never get into a head to head battle with them. If you do the outcome of this battle is highly unlikely to be good.

My second tip would be to focus your attention on understanding their position or concerns. Ultimately that means being willing to listen to others or what Stephen Covey calls Seeking First To Understand.

Next make clear what the expectations are of staff from your own and the organisations perspective.

Set boundaries around what is and what is not acceptable.

Avoid falling into the trap of making it personal. This is tougher than you might think especially if you are feeling frustrated or angry.

Don’t ever go into a difficult discussion when you are under extreme pressure or not prepared. This is a recipe for disaster.

Accept that you might not always handle it perfectly. This is important as it reduces the pressure on you to do what you perceive as doing it all perfectly.

Don’t be afraid to ask for support and advice. This might be from a more experienced leader or perhaps someone in human resources.

The Bottom Line: No one likes having to deal with difficult people but ultimately this goes with the territory.