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Labour Complexity

Difficult People

Take advantage of these strategies for coping effectively with individuals who exhibit bad behaviour

Elinor Robin




We all know them – those difficult people who seem to delight in spreading misery. Inevitably, you will encounter a difficult person in your personal or professional life. And, this difficult employee, colleague, supplier, customer, relative, neighbour or friend will bring distress into your life. However, with the right strategies, you can deal with him or her effectively. First, let’s define what a difficult person is.

Identifying Difficult People

Difficult people have learned that they can keep others off balance by acting up. If you are dealing with someone whose bad behaviour is habitual and who is considered hard to take by most people, not just the overly sensitive or those who lack confidence, then you have a difficult person on your hands. Worst of all, these difficult people appear immune to all the usual methods of communication and persuasion designed to convince or help them change their ways. Here are the eight difficult types you may encounter.

  • The bully is angry, abusive, abrupt, aggressive, intimidating, hostile and unpredictable. Needing to always get his or her way, he or she goes off over little things, expecting others to either run away or react with rage.
  • Passive-aggressive personalities say yes and do no. Examples include being late for an event he or she doesn’t want to attend or leaving a note to avoid a face-to-face discussion.
  • The sniper takes potshots and makes sneak attacks in subtle ways, such as humorous put-downs, sarcastic remarks, disapproving looks and innuendoes.
  • Negative Nellies are complainers who are fearful, have little faith in themselves or in others and believe that the world is a hostile place. Their negativity, resentfulness and disappointment in life throw cold water on every idea and crush all glimmers of optimism.
  • The blamer avoids taking responsibility. Instead, using an accusatory and self-righteous tone, he or she finds fault with everything and everyone.
  • Unresponsives limit risk and seek safety by responding with a sullen look, an “I don’t know” or silence. They get away with not talking because the people around them are uncomfortable with silence and too quick to fill in the gaps
  • The yes-person is a super-agreeable people pleaser who over-promises and never delivers.
  • The know-it-all is an expert who comes across like a bulldozer with an aura of personal authority that is condescending, imposing and pompous.

Reject Appeasement

  • Don’t try to appease them. Difficult people have an insatiable appetite for more.
  • Don’t try to change them. You can only change your responses to their behaviour.
  • Take a detached, impersonal view. Your difficult person’s bad behaviour is not about you. So don’t interpret this behaviour as a personal attack.
  • Do the opposite of what he or she expects. Change your response and avoid getting caught up in the cycle
  • Time your responses so that you reply when the difficult person is not under excessive stress or obligation
  • Let the difficult person say what he or she wants. Give him or her the last word, because you will have the last action
  • Find a common goal, intention or “enemy” that you share with the difficult person. Now you can be on the
    same team
  • Assert yourself, expressing your own views while avoiding the battle for right and wrong.
  • Take an unpredictable action to get his or her attention: Drop a book, stand up, firmly call him or her by name, get him or her to sit down, and don’t sit until he or she does.
  • Wait for him or her to run out of steam. Then call him or her by name and assert your stand with confidence.

Question Your Attacker

  • Respond to potshots and attacks with a question: “That sounds like you’re making fun of me. Are you?” The response may be one of denial, “I’m only joking.” Nevertheless, questioning these attacks will reduce them in the future.
  • Insist on a problem-solving approach, with complaints and suggestions for resolution in writing.
  • Listen attentively so that the difficult person can blow off steam and feel heard.
  • Don’t debate his or her negative outlook. Instead, respond with your own optimistic expectations.
  • When dealing with someone who is unresponsive, avoid filling the space with words to ease your own discomfort. Comment on the fact that you find it interesting that he or she is choosing not to communicate, then ask:
  • Are you concerned about my reaction? How do you think I’ll react?
  • You appear to be distressed/worried/concerned/annoyed/angry/impatient/uncomfortable. Am I misinterpreting? Then wait for a response.
  • Give negative people the role of “reality checker” and require them to cite specifics rather than use sweeping generalisations.
  • Make “I want to find solutions that work for both of us” your mantra when dealing with a difficult person. Keep reminding him or her that finding a mutually acceptable solution is your goal.

Dealing with difficult people takes practice, so don’t give up or get discouraged. Although these strategies won’t change the difficult person, they will challenge his or her ability to interfere in your life.

Strategies to Cope

You don’t need to go through life holding your breath. Use these strategies to cope effectively with difficult people.

  • First, assess the situation. Is this really a difficult person or is he or she just having a bad day?
  • Set boundaries and limitations regarding what you will and will not tolerate from others.
  • Seek understanding regarding the difficult person’s true motivation.
  • Know when to let go and move on. Your best option may be to withdraw from the relationship – even though that might mean quitting your job, divorcing your spouse, eating lunch alone or moving far away from your parents or grown children. We all get to choose whom we allow to take up space in our lives. Choose wisely.
  • Don’t fight back or try to beat them at their own game. They have been practicing their skills for a lifetime, and you’re an amateur.

Dr. Elinor Robin is a mediator, columnist, and trainer specializing in professional and personal relationship matters. As a recognized expert in the field of conflict management, Robin has a background in small business, a PhD in psychology with a specialization in conflict management and a wide range of experiences from within the public and private sectors.

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Labour Complexity

Charity Begins At Home This Festive Season

3 Ways to invest in your own employees.

Nation Builder




We often only think of corporate social investment (CSI) as an organisation’s actions in the surrounding communities (philanthropy and volunteering), but CSI is also inward facing. By promoting employee well-being, your business can be a vehicle for change, not only in the society around it, but also directly in the lives of those working there.

Here are some ways you can invest in your own employees during the festive season:

1. Involve your employees in a higher purpose

This might sound like a bit of circular reasoning, but studies have shown that involving employees in CSI activities has several benefits. People involved in meaningful activities tend to be more motivated and willing to go that extra mile because of the higher good associated with the work. CSI programmes also:

  • Increase co-operative behaviour and employee relationships
  • Enhance the sense of company identity
  • Improve employee retention and commitment
  • Create an attractive company culture.

Related: What’s The Fuss About Corporate Social Investments?

2. Provide the space for physical and mental breaks

The end-of-year and festive period is often a very stressful period. Balancing festive and family duties with increased pressure at work due to colleagues taking leave, looming year-end targets and planning for the next year can take a toll.

You, as the employer, can ease this stress by ensuring that there are systems in place that define holiday working policies. Promote time and productivity management to plan workflows and keep the momentum going in these last weeks of the year. Also make sure you have effective communication strategies in place for plans that are in the pipeline for the new year, so that employees can get their heads around upcoming changes. This will allow employees to plan ahead and build in time to switch off, knowing that all of the boxes have been ticked.

3. Constructive feedback/motivation

Also, take the time to acknowledge and show appreciation for the hard work that your staff has put in throughout the year. As the saying goes “valued employees are valuable employees.”

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Company Posts

How Medical Savings Accounts Are Changing – For The Better

By Jeremy Yatt, Principal Officer of Fedhealth





The concept of medical savings accounts (MSA) emerged in the industry in the early 1990s, reputedly when Discovery founder Adrian Gore was working at Liberty. At that time medical scheme benefits for different kinds of day-to-day healthcare were specified, so for example, you’d get a certain amount of Rands to spend on your over-the-counter medicine, or for optometry services. But this was problematic, as people’s daily medical needs are all so different. So, you’d have medical aid members calling their medical schemes saying, “I haven’t used my spectacle limit this year, so can I transfer it to use on medication instead?”.

The idea for MSAs was to pool these separate benefits into a total Rand amount, that you could then spend how you wanted, and more importantly, retain if you didn’t use them all. Initially, medical schemes were reluctant to follow this idea, as they thought it would lead to under-servicing: medical aid members might be unwilling to spend their savings, and so might not get the proper day-to-day medical attention until it became a crisis and they were hospitalised. However this was not the case, and MSAs proved very popular.

At first, there was no real limit on how much of your contributions as a member could go into your MSA, so most schemes allocated around 40-50%. Many schemes also pushed major medical procedures like MRI scans into savings, which was effectively a way of forcing members to self-fund these costly medical expenses. As a result, the Medical Schemes Act was amended in 1998 to impose a 25% limit on the benefits that could be put into MSAs, which largely forced the schemes to be responsible for these major costs.

Related: Why Your Employees’ Health Is Your SME’s Wealth

Under the previous structure there was no disincentive not to use your benefits, particularly as they didn’t roll over from year to year like Medical Savings do. It was therefore not uncommon for a call centre to get queries from members asking how much was available in their different benefit areas, so that they could make sure they used them all up.

MSAs solved these sorts of problems by giving medical aid members increased convenience and autonomy, which is why schemes have been using them for the past 20+ years.

The concept of an MSA isn’t far removed from a loan. Like a loan, an MSA lets you use a sum of money when you want to, but you still have to pay for it regardless of whether you use it or not. It forms part of the registered gross contribution to the medical scheme. Take the example of a member who has R12 000 they can access in their MSA each year. Effectively they are paying for this “loan”, contributing R1000 a month, starting in January. However an MSA means they can use all of that R12 000 upfront, such as if they need expensive dental treatment (crowns etc.) at the start of February that costs R12 000.

In this situation, the member has only paid for R1000 worth of that R12 000 “loan” (with their January contribution), so they effectively “owe” the medical scheme R11 000, which they then pay off over the remainder of the year. If the member left the scheme straight after their dental work, the scheme would then contact the member to repay the R11 000, as they still owe that amount.

Related: Is There A Link Between Physical And Financial Wellness?

The concept of giving members access to medical financing led us to develop our new MediVault offering for day-to-day medical expenses. Describing it as a loan holds negative connotations for some, but it’s not that different from the concept of an MSA: in fact, we see the MediVault as a natural evolution. All it means is that you won’t need to pay for day-to-day savings upfront. Instead, you’ll be allocated money for these everyday medical expenses in your personal MediVault and, once you’ve taken the money out, you only have to pay it back over a period of 12 months – completely interest-free. This is a far better option than taking out an expensive loan from a traditional loan company, or getting it from an unscrupulous loan shark.

Our MediVault offering is not at all about loaning funds to people irresponsibly. We’re not creating a monster that’s going to indebt you – we’re just changing the way you can access funds for your healthcare. After all, health is everyone’s most worthwhile investment, and we want to give people the flexibility to make it their top priority.

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Labour Complexity

Year-End Reviews Are Not Always A Positive Experience

This is largely due to parties entering into it without proper preparations, thinking that it can be done in one meeting.

Adri Dörnbrack




Performance reviews are similar to entering a race. It’s all about race day, but what you put in before the event (the discipline to wake up and train, the commitment to push yourself and stick to your training plan) is what makes race day either a great positive journey or a terrible experience. The same principle applies to performance reviews. It should not be a once-a-year meeting. It should be part of the monthly job description for both the manager and employee to be able to compare, adjust and review on an ongoing basis. Then, once a year, all the insights gathered during the year should be reviewed to plan for the next year. 

Performance excellence reviews contribute to the culture of a company

We always say that attitude determines outputs or achievements. Personal attitudes, and the character of the business, is the culture. A great culture will lead to great achievements.

Performance excellence reviews are the tool we use to compare, adjust and shape what we want to achieve and then benchmark to know if it has been achieved. 

Employee performance reveals a lot about the business’ achievements. A business is great when it is profitable, cares about and looks after their people, and contributes towards the wellbeing of society and/or the planet. It is all about performance. What you put in is what you get out. And this is what we need to understand. 

Related: How to Set Up Employee Assessments

Performance excellence reviews can be a positive experience

Know the individual and their needs. There are really no one size fits all generic option.

There are however a few general good practices :

  • Managers should firstly understand the value that performance excellence reviews contribute towards overall achievements.
  • When the manager is positive about the reviews and the value it adds, automatically the employees follow.
  • On a monthly basis, review the employee’s feedback relating to the progress of the functions / tasks.
  • Be understanding as a manager – not all functions might haven been able to be completed due to job changes or the complexity of a growing job function.
  • As employee, understand that a manager is employed to manage the performance of the team, the department and the business. This entails understanding the employees’ performance.
  • New employees need to be reviewed more frequently eg. Bi weekly. When the employee has found their feet, review monthly or bi monthly.
  • Do not review performance once a year only. Review frequently, and once a year have a focused meeting around performance to discuss what was achieved during the last 12 months.
  • Managers should be responsible, and held accountable, to get all staff to complete their reviews (monthly, quarterly etc). It is the managers responsibility and it should be one of their functions.
  • Employees should know that performance reviews are simply there to understand the job, and help to align the job and the person’s talents to get the best outputs. It’s about continuously striving towards efficiency and effectiveness.
  • As a manager: Communicate progress feedback and offer assistance.
  • Be consistent. Review frequently.
  • Celebrate achievements.

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