Hi! I’m Christina. I’ve been a retail buyer, personnel and operations manager, in-house marketing manager, and most importantly - a successful small business owner for nearly 10 years. After selling my business, I got my Master’s in Organizational Leadership and now I’m the EVP at a digital marketing company. Now that I’m a few years away from business ownership, my entrepreneurial bug has bitten me again. This blog is an opportunity for me to share what I’ve learned in the past 25+ years. I hope you learn from my successes (and my mistakes)! You can learn more about me by viewing my LinkedIn profile.

Leadership Challenge: Dealing with difficult people

Leadership Challenge: Dealing with difficult people

leadership challenge difficult people

Most people have had the unpleasant experience of working with or for someone who doesn’t like them, or is just plain difficult to work with. Dealing with difficult people is one of the most stressful situations business owners and managers face. Although some conflict in the workplace is healthy, such as a creative person arguing with someone who is more business oriented about the best approach to a marketing campaign, constant conflict can be extremely detrimental to a small business.

I think the biggest challenge faced by managers who are forced to learn how to deal with difficult people at work is that the conflict resolution strategies, the face-to-face meetings, and the open and honest discussions that normally solve problems in the workplace simply don’t work with extremely difficult, antagonistic people. That’s why I was so happy to discover the book Leader Killers by Kenneth C. Haugk, Ph. D.  I’m a big self-help book person, and have read a lot of books on this topic, but Haugk’s approach is different.

First, you need to figure out if you are dealing with an antagonistic person. Ask yourself these 7 questions:

  1. Is the person’s behavior divisive?

  2. Is the attack irrational?

  3. Does he or she go out of the way to initiate trouble?

  4. Are the concerns upon which he or she bases the attack minimal or fabricated?

  5. Does the person avoid causes that involve personal risk, suffering or sacrifice?

  6. Does the person’s motivation appear selfish?

If you’ve answered yes to several of these questions, you’re likely dealing with an antagonistic person. Other things antagonists do include:

  • Try to catch you by asking questions that will trip you up in front of others.

  • Gossiping to get others on his or her side.

  • Relentless meddling, emailing, coming in to your office or texting to work through the issue they will not let drop.

Unfortunately, a small business is more susceptible to the impact of an antagonistic person. The fishbowl is smaller so it is a lot easier to become a big fish in the small business’ pond.

While a difficult person certainly has the right to their opinion, they do not have the right to take over the organization. Unfortunately, according to Haugk, “Normal ways of dealing with conflict and criticism not only do not work with antagonists but actually make things worse.” Difficult and antagonistic people are so difficult to deal with, it is easier as a business owner or a manager to simply avoid the problem, hoping it will go away on its own. This doesn’t make you weak as a manager, it simply means that you are a thoughtful person who wants to handle a situation in the most peaceful way possible.

If you’re faced with an antagonist and wondering how to deal with this difficult person, give these 5 tips a try.

  1. Don’t wait. The longer you wait to address the problem, the more stress it will cause you and everyone else you work with. Have the difficult conversation, get it over with so you can move on with running your business and managing others. The longer you wait to address the problem, the more the problem will impact morale and productivity.

  2. Change your mindset. The Chopra Center explains that people often use “control dramas” to get what they want. These control dramas are behaviors learned in childhood and retained either for their ability to get results or because the other person hasn’t evolved to a higher level of communication. These control dramas are:

    1. Being nice and manipulative

    2. Being nasty and manipulative

    3. Being aloof and withdrawn

    4. Playing the victim or “poor-me” role

If you understand which control drama your difficult person is attempting to use, it can help you react in a new way that will shift the dynamic of your conversations.

3. Stay calm. Remember, the other person actually wants you to get upset. By remaining calm and simply repeating your rebuttal, your antagonist will get nowhere. For example, if you are being interrupted repeatedly during a meeting, you can say something like, “ We need to stick to our agenda. Let’s discuss your concern at another time.” You will need to repeat your statement over and over again, especially if this is not the first time your antagonist has tried to hijack a meeting by interrupting you. He or she has learned that this strategy works, and will not give up easily. You will need to stand firm to “retrain” them to the new, productive normal.

4. Address only the facts. Antagonists tend to argue peripheral points. The more you say, the easier it is for the difficult person in your workplace to distract you with yet another argument. Stick to the facts, then stop talking.

5. Get other leaders involved. If you own a very small business and you are the only leader, mobilizing others might be difficult. However, there are always leaders among employees who are technically at the same level. Working together, you can ensure your actions and behavior are consistent and understood.

Dealing with difficult people can take a toll on your life, both at work and at home. Until your workplace conflict is resolved, it will be important to take care of yourself and your family. Protect yourself emotionally. Small business owners and entrepreneurs are usually very emotionally invested in their business, which can make objectivity and calm very challenging. Remember, building and growing your business is your dream. Don’t let someone derail your dream. Be smart and be strong. I highly recommend you read Leader Killers as well as In Sheep’s Clothing. Both books provide insights into the mindsets of aggressive, passive-aggressive, and other types of difficult people.

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