The Art of Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace

Photo by
Photo by

Difficult people are everywhere.

In this month’s Business Leadership Webinar, we talked about how to deal with difficult people, stack the deck in your favor, and get your way more of the time.

Here are some of the things we covered:

Influence, not defense

  • Don’t get stalled. You WILL get bullied, blocked and let down. If you view this as an inconvenient nuisance that interferes with your real job, ignore it, or expect someone else to fix it for you, you will get stuck.
  • It’s part of the job. Accept that dealing with difficult people proactively, and clearing the obstacles they create, is an official part of your job. We talked about how you can make more progress, and get less personally damaged by.
  • Defensive doesn’t work. You are never in a stronger position by getting defensive. Create a positive way forward. Fight personal attacks with forward progress.

Outcome vs. Emotion

Don’t get drawn in. One of my favorite quotes is:

“If you get drawn into an argument with a stupid person, he will drag you down to his level, then beat you with experience.” Unknown.

Whether it is a stupid person or an evil genius, you are better off to stick to the high ground and stick to the non-emotional facts. Keep it simple. Don’t react to emotional attacks, it only gives them more hooks to drag you down.

Article Continues Below
  • Focus on the desired outcome. We talked about how to defined a clear desired outcome — and how this shifts the focus to a less controversial, less emotional point in the future. What to do next is way more contentious than “What are we trying to accomplish big picture, long term?”
  • Outcome vs. Opinion. Remember, your opinion is not more valid in an argument. We talked about how to shift the discussion from conflicting opinions to desired outcomes, so you can get to work on achieving a useful outcome.

Get the data

  • The voice of the data. When you collect the data you can speak with the voice of the customer or the voice of the market, not your voice. You are not smarter than your adversary, but 100 customers are.
  • The value of the data. When someone is attacking you, blocking you, or not performing, keep a log of it. What are the specifics? When? What? What was the impact? This helps you assess if it indeed is a big deal, or if you are overreacting because it bugs you. If it is a real issue, then you will already have the data record to address it objectively.
  • Be super-specific. We talked about how to define a very specific outcome. Make sure you spell out how it will be measured, by who? Have a check list for what completeness and quality look like. Allow no wiggle room. That way if you are not satisfied with the outcome, you have a super-clear, completely objective way for communicating the gap. (There are ideas for doing this in the webinar worksheets.)
  • Don’t give away power. When you are fuzzy in defining the outcome and the measures, you give away power. You’re left saying, “That’s not good enough,” but by not having a super-clear way to say why, you risk sliding back into a disagreement with the person, not the outcome.

Sell the outcome

  • Recruit support. You need to build your power relative to your adversary. You need to actively sell the business value of the outcome you are proposing. We talked about how to recruit support so that you are favored in a stand-off.
  • Credibility. You will find occasions when you and your adversary have an equally strong case. There are two factors that tip the scales in your favor:
    • Which proposal is more likely/trusted to be executed?
    • Who has more personal credibility.
  •  Short and long-term view. I can say that in my career, the times I got my way against adversaries included both using these desired outcome, facts-oriented techniques in the moment, AND as a result of having taken care to build my credibility over the long term.

Build a relationship

We are all people. Even though your adversary is probably the last person that you would want to have lunch with, do it anyway. Try to find some reason to respect them. Try to find a common interest outside of work.

Even a small human connection will make work negotiations easier and reduce back-stabbing.

This was originally published on Patty Azzarello’s Business Leadership Blog. Her new book is Rise: How to be Really Successful at Work and LIKE Your Life.

Patty Azzarello is the founder and CEO of Azzarello Group. She's also an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/business advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35, and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk). You can find her at .


1 Comment on “The Art of Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *