A Guide to Dealing with Difficult People at Work

from Silk Helix
Photograph of Jenefer Livings, Founder of Silk Helix Ltd
15 October 2019
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Have you found yourself with a difficult person or situation to manage?

There are so many difficult situations; regular lateness or absence, poor performance, bad attitude, refusing a reasonable instruction. Whatever the situation, you’re probably feeling like it’s taking up huge amounts of your time. You may not be sure how to deal with it. You may be worried about what you can and can’t say.

Whilst you may fear dealing with it, can you afford to not deal with it? Think about the problems this person or their action is causing the business. Think about your time and energy that is being taken away from what you need to be doing.

Do not ignore the situation, do not let it get worse. It’s unlikely to go away on it’s own or without more harm being done. Hoping the person will leave, worse still making life difficult in the hope it’ll make them leave, it will come back to bite you.

Know what good looks like

Your situation is difficult because this person isn’t doing what you want them to be doing, they’re not turning up on time, they’re not turning up often enough or not performing in the way you want them to. You need to know what you’re expecting, contrast this with what they are doing. The more precise you can be about the shortfall and the improvement needed the easier it will be to discuss it with the employee.


You cannot deal with difficult people without having a conversation with them. Do not assume, listen, you may find out there is an underlying issue. Equally don’t assume there is an underlying issue and give leeway where it’s not needed.

How much the individual recognises the issues and is willing to discuss with you a route to resolution is a huge clue as to whether you will be able to resolve this.

Fair Process

Having identified the gaps in performance and raised the concerns, work with the individual to make a plan. The reason for the issue will impact the plan and the process.

Discuss any support needed and provide it, this could include additional training or resources. Review and feedback regularly. Focus your feedback on the behaviour, be specific about what they are doing right or wrong and why it’s either right or wrong. If wrong, be specific about what you expect in future.

In line with a fair process, ensure you are dealing with the issue consistently. Issues of a similar nature should be dealt with consistently across the organisation. This will help to avoid accusations of bullying or discrimination.


Everything above should be documented. So often managers come to me about a difficult person, they’ve been suffering the situation for some time, even discussed it with the individual but nothing it documented. Without documentation there is no evidence you have followed a fair process.


Do not be afraid of the consequences if the issue does not improve, whether it’s performance or attendance a failure to improve should have a consequence. Dismissing someone is never easy but sometimes it is necessary. Often both parties will recognise it isn’t working and decide to part ways, other times you will need to take the decision to dismiss. This is important, it sends a message to the rest of the team that you will deal with issues and deal with them fairly. If done right this will earn you credibility as a manager.

Transferring an employee is a possible alternative to dismissal, however, it is important to only do this if there is a reasonable belief that the transfer will result in a successful outcome. Transferring an employee often results in simply moving the problem.

Difficult people are an almost inevitable part of business. Tackling situations head on, using these steps will reduce the difficulty and put you in the right position to solve the problem.

While this guide covers the basics, every situation has its own complexities so you should always seek professional advice.
We can help, so book a Free Advice Call .

Article last updated: 15 October 2019

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