Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville


What makes people difficult? Few people consciously operate in ‘difficult’ mode; for the most part, difficult behaviour is a defence mechanism, used without awareness of the impact that it has on others.

A number of factors may be the cause of unwelcome behaviour. People may be fearful about change, anxious about their ability to perform or angry about how they have been treated in the past, or they may feel undervalued for the contribution that they are making. These emotions can often result in defensive behaviour which has a negative impact on others.

Sometimes, ‘difficult’ is a label that does not genuinely reflect reality: differences in behavioural style can be all too easily perceived as difficult behaviour. For example, someone who prefers a slow-paced step-by-step approach to their work may perceive a faster-paced person, who wants quick results, as impatient and pushy. Someone who likes big picture thinking may see a more detail-oriented person as nitpicking and a person who has a planned and ordered approach to their work may perceive someone who works better in short bursts and closer to the deadline as careless and disorganised.

One common reaction to difficult behaviour is to ignore it and hope that it will resolve itself. While this sometimes happens, more often the difficult behaviour becomes entrenched and unless the individual never receives feedback about the impact of their behaviour, they are not going to change.

Difficult people can be anywhere in the organisation. You may find managing upwards a challenge if you have a boss who is demanding or inaccessible. You may have colleagues whose behaviour causes problems, team members who are having a negative impact on the rest of the team or customers constantly on the phone with complaints that seem trivial to you.

Once you have some ways of understanding what causes difficult behaviour and your reaction to it, plus some tactics for dealing with it, you will feel more resourceful and this will have a positive impact on the work environment.