Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

Not difficult – just impossible !

Most of the time, if you use the effective strategies discussed within this topic when dealing with difficult people, this will change the situation for the better and the difficulty will be resolved.

On occasion, however, the difficult behaviour is so extreme or entrenched that it goes over the dividing line of what is acceptable.

Case study

Bill had often been described by his colleagues as the ‘rogue elephant’ in the team. Although he was good at his job, he could come across as arrogant and superior. He was prone to quite vicious put downs of other team members, particularly more junior ones, and he had a mean temper when he could not get his own way. He was often late for internal meetings and, when he did attend them, he would sit pointedly doing his own work, rather that participating in the discussion.

As time went on, despite numerous attempts to give feedback, build the relationship and manage Bill’s behaviour, it became clear that the situation was getting worse, not better. Team morale and performance were suffering and Bill’s temper was also having an effect on external customers.

It is at this point that problems like Bill’s behaviour become impossible to deal with on an individual basis and stated organisational rules about acceptable behaviour should come into play.

People on the receiving end of this kind of behaviour may feel that they are being bullied or harassed and the appropriate organisational policy needs to be used.

It may be that the behaviour becomes unacceptable to such an extent that, if nothing changes after the person has been given feedback and time to improve, disciplinary procedures then need to be used to ensure that they are aware of the consequences of continuing this behaviour.

It should also be recognised that extreme behaviour may be the result of stress, mental health issues, or drink or drug problems, and managers should be alert particularly for behaviour that is out of character.

For more on this, see Discipline and Grievance and Bullying and Harassment.