Most managers will, at some point, find themselves facing challenging employees or clients. Here, then, are ten tips for successfully dealing with challenging or difficult people.


1. Maintain your composure

The first rule in dealing with challenging or difficult people is to maintain your composure. Generally speaking, the less reactive you are, the more you can use your better judgment to handle a situation. Before you say something that you might later regret, pause and work out a better way of communicating the issue, so that you can reduce rather than escalate the problem.


2. Consider an alternative perspective

Try to consider multiple ways of viewing a given situation before reacting to it. Actively listen to gain a better understanding of another person’s point of view. Widening your perspective can help to reduce the possibility of misunderstanding.


3. Don’t ignore it

Ignoring a difficult situation can sometimes seem like the easiest option, particularly when you are busy. However, the problem will not fix itself. Failing to take action could mislead a person by giving the impression that there is no problem, it could deny them the opportunity to improve or put things right, it could damage the productivity and efficiency of your business or lower morale amongst staff.


4. Give clear, constructive feedback

Problem behaviours should be discussed. Feedback should be objective, realistic and helpful. Expectations should be clearly communicated.


5. Set goals and consequences

Goals and strategies for achieving those goals should be clearly conveyed, as should time frames and consequences of failing to achieve the set objectives.


6. Follow up

After initially addressing the issue, make sure that you follow up. It is important that the individual knows that you are still on top of the situation. If behaviour has not improved, consider your next steps.


7. Be consistent

Ensure that relevant company policy and procedure is followed consistently. So far as employees are concerned, objective and consistent use of a performance management system is a powerful tool in achieving improvement. This includes regular appraisals. Ensure that people are treated equally and that there can be no assertion of discrimination or bias.


8. Respond proportionately

It is important to ensure that your response is proportionate to the issue in hand. We are all human, and we will have the occasional bad day or week. It is important to recognise that. A disproportionate response could cause difficulties in the relationship going forward, be a cause of concern to other employees or clients, or could expose your business to a risk of legal action. Of course, this does not mean that a tough stance is not merited in particular circumstances. So far as employees are concerned, employers should pursue their disciplinary process where appropriate.


9. Keep a paper trail

Ensure that you retain a record of the issues concerned, discussions had, conclusions reached and the reasoning behind your decisions. Such records could prove to be vital in the event of you wishing to take disciplinary action in respect of an employee or a person later alleging that they have been improperly treated. To document the matter is not negative, it is prudent.


10. Be mindful of mental health issues

When an individual continually behaves in a way that is problematic or challenging, the roots may lie deeper than is immediately apparent. It is worth remembering that according to Mind statistics, 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Where a mental health issue constitutes a disability, employers have a duty to make reason adjustments.

For further information please contact our Employment Team on 01256 844888 or email enquiries@lambbrooks.com

The contents of this article are for the purposes of general awareness only. They do not purport to constitute legal or professional advice. The law may have changed since this article was published. Readers should not act on the basis of the information included and should take appropriate professional advice upon their own particular circumstances.