Managing Difficult Staff


“Reasonable people adapt themselves to the world. Unreasonable people attempt to adapt the world to themselves. All progress, therefore, depends on unreasonable people.” [George Bernard Shaw]


Most staff members are reasonable and relatively easy to get along with, but for some you will need to dig deep into your management toolbox to optimise the relationship.

As part of your development as a manager, there will be opportunities to talk in non-specific terms about staff management issues with your peers. These discussions may provide you with options.  But here are some suggestions captured from a variety of sources and from a variety of viewpoints:

Helpful hints


  • Attitude-Is-EverythingAccept that you are not always going to get on with everybody – and not getting on with you does not necessarily constitute a problem
  • Accept that people and things are seldom completely good or completely bad – there is both good and bad in everyone (including you)
  • Respect diversity of personality – accept that “difficult people” are not necessarily those who don’t always see or do things the way you do
  • Respect diversity of opinion – accept that what you may find difficult or unreasonable may be acceptable and reasonable to others
  • Respect diversity of thinking – accept that “difficult people” may see things differently and therefore come up with creative and innovative methods
  • Be objective – you may not have to like someone to respect them and their contribution to the workplace
  • Be reasonable – within reason, make every attempt to build an effective working relationship with the “difficult person”
  • Be fair – accept that you both may need to adjust your behaviours to produce a workable solution
  • Be realistic – you only really have control over how you react to a particular situation – so be open to developing your skills (patience, listening, etc) as well as those of the “difficult person”
  • Be flexible – there will not be one management strategy for all staff and all situations


  • workplace-behaviourSet behavioural standards – but make sure they are based on valid business requirements rather than your personal behavioural preferences
  • Walk a mile in their shoes – try to understand why a person seems to be difficult to deal with – they may be influenced by an unrelated issue
  • Don’t make a mountain out of a molehill – is the behaviour of the “difficult person” really worth getting worked up over?
  • Don’t make a molehill out of a mountain – don’t ignore unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour – you may need to explore formal resolution options
  • Don’t over-generalise – don’t see one negative interaction as typical of your dealings with a “difficult person”
  • Adopt a joint problem-solving approach – concentrate on the unacceptable or inappropriate behaviour not the person
  • Consider the principles of restorative rather than punitive justice – what happened, who/what has been harmed, what needs to be done to fix it, and how do we minimise the chances of it happening again
  • Don’t back-stab or build coalitions against “difficult people” – wherever possible, build bridges to them
  • Validate your concerns – discretely test them with fellow team members to make sure you are being realistic
  • Acknowledge and reinforce the preferred behaviour when it occurs – ensure that acknowledgement is given in ways that are valued by the “difficult person”

For yourself

  • Be-Yourself-Everyone-Else-is-Already-TakenBe satisfied – when you have done your best, await the results in peace
  • Act like a sponge – if emotions are running high, try to concentrate on the problem – try to ignore emotive language and try not to use it yourself
  • Develop coping strategies – if you find yourself in a difficult relationship, find constructive ways to reduce your discomfort – breathing exercises, physical exercise, meditation, etc
  • If difficulties persist, consider adding a training course on managing difficult staff to your personal development plan
  • Be reassured – you are not alone and this is not unique – there always has been and always will be “difficult staff” – and there always has been and always will be solutions.

And if you would like to discuss the matter further, contact the Hub – when you’re ready to talk, we’re to listen!