6 Ways To Manage Difficult Behaviours


People who display difficult behaviours can be just that, difficult. However, they also represent a powerful opportunity – they give you an enormous chance to learn. Unfortunately, whether a client, customer or colleague, they’re part of your work-life, so it makes sense to learn how to deal with them. Not everyone can be a dream to work with!

There are lots of ways to learn how to deal with difficult people, including sheer experience, mentorship, or how to deal with difficult behaviours training. This is a great place to start, though. Let’s get stuck into seven ways to manage difficult people. 

Identifying Difficult Behaviours

We’ve identified a few common types of difficult behaviours that you may recognise:

  • The Berater – A person who displays this difficult behaviour makes life hell for staff. They’ll raise their voice and get aggressive at the slightest provocation, and can leave you feeling anxious about every potential interaction.
  • The Miser – this difficult person always has one eye on the invoice, trying to squeeze free work out of you and your team in whatever way possible.
  • The Conformist – this difficult behaviour is pathologically indecisive and needs to run every decision by every member of their team before they can make a call.
  • The Catastrophiser – this difficult person will monopolise your time, insisting that every issue they have is priority number one, no matter how many other tasks, clients or team members you have!
  • The Know-It-All – this difficult person understands what you do way better than you could, in spite of your experience. They’ll point out every little thing you’re doing wrong, in their opinion.
  • The Simplifier – This person will ask for the world and expect it tomorrow. They want all manner of complex details and custom systems and think it can be completed in a heartbeat.

Do any of these sound familiar? Let’s take a look at some strategies that should help when it comes to dealing with them.

1. Keep a cool head.

This can be tough when you’ve got a difficult person causing a fuss in the office or on the phone. It’s important that you don’t get dragged down to their level, lest you sacrifice your reputation for some brief satisfaction. A calm voice and a cool demeanour will get your point across far more clearly than a shouting match ever will. We are also wired to mirror other peoples’ emotions, so you stand a chance of cooling their temper by remaining calm. Besides, you can always debrief to your manager, colleague or friend in private.

2. Practice active listening.

A lot of the time, someone in a state of distress needs to be heard, more than anything. Ensuring that you understand the crux of what they’re upset about, repeating their statements back to them, and asking follow-up questions will go a long way towards ensuring that the difficult client or employee  feels heard and seen. Get into specifics, so that you’re not just bombarded with vagaries like “everything has gone badly” or “nothing’s right!” Clarity is everything.

3. Reply promptly.

Put your difficult client at ease by assuring them that you’re making their problem a priority. Avoid apologising or claiming the blame, just continue to make it clear that they are being heard, their concerns are valid, and build a foundation of good communication. 

4. Determine the cause of the issue.

At this stage, you can take things internal. Convene with your team or manager and sort out what went wrong, where, and why. You might find that there is a genuine technical problem, or that the whole thing has sprung out of misguided expectations. Whatever it is, it’s essential that you get to the bottom of it clearly, calmly, and promptly.

5. Stay solutions-oriented.

If your internal process discovered that you or your team were at fault, be upfront about that. If not, providing a solution ought to get things running smoothly again. If it was their mistake, be upfront about that as well, but delicately. Show them where the misunderstanding took place in relation to your agreements and project outlines, and tell them you’re happy to move on with this fresh understanding and new solutions in mind. Oftentimes, improved communication procedures can be the best way forward. 

6. Know when to call it quits. 

You need to know what your priority is – your bottom line or your reputation. A difficult client’s issues can really chew up your funds, so it’s important to understand when you’re better off terminating an agreement or sacrificing any profit for the sake of maintaining your reputation for handling unwieldy projects. If a fix is possible, you’re probably better off taking that option, because you never know how that might transform a once-difficult relationship. If things are unsalvageable, it might be time to say goodbye.

Don’t Forget: Reflect on the experience. 

Dealing with difficult people is tough, but you can gain a lot from it. You and your team should ask why the problem came up, whether (and how) it could have been prevented, and what lessons you’ve learned that will aid you in future. It might turn out that there’s one simple change that could totally remove this issue going forward. 

Where To Learn How To Deal With People And Their Difficult Behaviours?

While the framework in this article is a great place to start, it can be helpful to get into the details. Pathways Australia offers many kinds of courses, including several that will help you gain the skills to deal with difficult clients and conflicts in the workplace. Consult our website for our full range of offerings, and get in touch today!