Leading, Working and Influencing Difficult People

According to Tiffan, (2009), people are labeled as difficult if they show one of various characteristics. People are labeled as difficult if they show qualities of passive aggressiveness, incompetent, negative, argumentative, arrogant or any combination of these characteristics. An arrogant person may also be argumentative. Also, negative people may be passive aggressive.

Difficult people make a significant impact in an organization. They may prevent customer service from being effective, slow down performance or make other workers uncomfortable around them. Information is also not passed around effectively as required as people avoid confrontation. People who are difficult are also known to be poor listeners hence making it difficult to share and understand information.

For leaders, the problem of living with a difficult person is amplified for various reasons (Bultena, Ramser, & Tilker, 2012). First, the leader not only has to deal with the person but also has to influence their decisions and activities. Second, the leader must also deal with the issues of conflict surrounding the difficult person. Finally, the leader carries the weight of the inconveniences caused by the difficult person in terms of non-performance, poor service delivery and unacceptable behavior. This paper seeks to expound on how to lead, influence and work with difficult people.

Causes of being difficult

Working with difficult people takes out the fun at working. They complain a lot, do little work and self-promote all day. They can only make any progress if they are accompanied by principled personnel, who are after getting things done. If the leadership is effective, there may be some hope. People wonder why such people continue to be at the workforce despite their being an obstacle to progress at the work place. In good companies, while it may take time to get them to leave the company, they all eventually leave.

Difficult people always have a reason why they behave the way they do. Some cite tyrannical leadership as their cause for being difficult; others oppression, while others think everyone hates them. Whatever the case, it is the role of every employee to ensure they know how to handle these people while working with them. People will even cite having been oppressed in their past as a reason for being difficult. By being difficult, they are trying to prevent others from taking advantage of them.

The apprehension of raising the circumstances is nearly attached to vulnerability about how best to handle the circumstances. In the event that we had the devices and experience, we may be more slanted to take action. By and large, notwithstanding, I discover the most widely recognized reason that individuals battle is fear of conflict. Dealing with this fear is a test for most individuals. Entire books and workshops are given to this point. You can pick up critical knowledge about managing conflict by understanding your correspondence style, which is a capacity of identity. In the event that you are additionally pleasing and touchy, for instance, you will probably discover clash rarer than individuals who are more straightforward and self-assured.

Dealing with difficult people

Tiffan (2009) suggests three methods of dealing with difficult people. He argues that any combination of these methods works. One may also prefer to use one of the methods in certain situations.

  1. Analyze the situation

The foundation of this method is to understand the root of the problem. It takes time to resolve. First, the leader must try to get into the same situation as the employee. Sometimes people are justified to be difficult. The leader should consult widely in regard to what causes the difficulty in working with the person. Sometimes the working conditions may be to blame; sometimes he may have another underlying problem. Whatever the case, if possible, the leader should strive to identify the root of the problem. Once the problem is identified, the leader should then call the person and listen to their point of view. The person should at this point be able to inform you about the underlying problems. It is also time to enquire about the underlying problems if any. If possible, these problems may be resolved.

Once information has been obtained the leader should look at what impact of the person’s behavior on everyone in the organization. The leader may enquire about the impact of the behavior on the person’s life himself. This is meant to show how the person benefits from their behavior. While some will be able to shelter from work, conflict and other effort requiring situations, the negativity caused by the difficulty they show is not worth it. At this point, it is possible to identify methods of resolving the conflict.

  • Leverage the style of communication

This is a strategy that is focused on balancing the communication style between the leader and the subordinate (Brinkman & Facilities, 2009). This way, the leader looks at how he may be contributing to the conflict. The method also seeks to identify ways the leader can change either or both communication styles so as to minimize the level of conflict. The leader seeks to get to the same level of communication with the subordinate. To do this, the leader identifies how the subordinate communicates and used the same style. For people who communicate directly, the leader should also be direct with them. For people who are logical and systematic, the leader should be similarly systematic and logical. In the end, if the leader and the subordinate communicate in the same level, they will be able to resolve conflict more promptly.

  • Using the Five Step engagement model

This involves direct confrontation and an intention to resolve whatever conflict exists. The leader should prepare for the meeting ahead of it to yield better results.

  1. State the problem; the leader states the problem briefly, clearly and honestly. In this step, the focus should be put on the problem and its impact and not on the person. This step will prepare the person for resolving the conflict.
  2. Review the situation; analyze the situation from both the perspective of the leader and that of the subordinate. This step is intended to facilitate a level of understanding between leader and follower.
  3. Explore options; allow a two way communication as you propose solutions to the problem. The leader should keep an open mind so as to allow for the contribution of the follower and obtain a variety of practicable options.
  4. Reach an agreement; the leader and the subordinate should review the understandings they have reached. These should include all the commitments that each party has offered to make towards a more reasonable coexistence.
  5. Follow-up; it is important for the leader to follow up on the progress of the situation. This will help to identify any mending that needs to be done. It is also important for acknowledging the benefits that have been developed in the new relationship.

Influencing difficult people

Sometimes leaders need to influence the decisions others make in their day to day lives (Selinger, 2008). With this skill, leaders can obtain the results they desire from their workforce. While influencing others is difficult, influencing difficult people is even more difficult.  The process of influencing difficult people should therefore be gradual and well thought. Various methods may be used to influence.


Difficult people are usually characterized by underlying issues. Showing friendliness towards them may be impactful towards softening them. In that state, it becomes easier for the leader to influence the person. The leader and the subordinate are able to cultivate a level of trust that acts as sufficient ground for influencing.


When difficult people are given a sense of responsibility, they get a sense of confidence that the leader trusts them (Brinkman & Facilities, 2009). This offers a level of mutual communication between the two parties. With this level of trust, it is far easier for the leader to obtain results as he desires from the subordinate. The subordinate on the other hand finds the need to prove his capacity hence offering even more fertile grounds for influence.


This is the act of creating an image of a result in which both parties benefit and get a sense of achievement. The person then only acts as if to achieve a result they desire.

Building alliances

This step involves identifying areas of common interest between the two parties (Brinkman & Facilities, 2009). The leader then asks about he can help before requesting for help. In this regard, the main point here is to exchange favors. When this happens between leader and subordinate, the leader is likely to get a more pleasing deal.


This involves offering some add-ons on a role to make it more pleasant to the subordinate. The subordinate may use incentives and even pressure to get work done. This method is usually more effective if the incentive is given some time before making the request.


This is the method of a leader using his leadership position to acquire something from subordinate (Selinger, 2008). It is usually the most used method of seeking favors between leader and subordinate.

The leader’s position as an influencer cannot be taken for granted. The leader must be prepared for a more up-hill task when seeking help from a difficult individual. If it is done improperly, the person may cite misuse or abuse. Difficult people are better influenced by including a benefit for them.


People may be referred to as difficult for various behavioral problems. For leaders, the problem of dealing with a difficult individual is two-fold. First, the leader must deal with the problems raised by other workers regarding how the individual interacts with others. Secondly, the leader is charged with the role of influencing the person and might meet with a lot of reluctance. To resolve the issues, the leader should be willing to go beyond the individual himself and instead dealing with the root of the problem.


Bultena, C., Ramser, C., & Tilker, K. (2012). Fighting futility III: dealing with difficult people in mediation. Southern Journal of Business & Ethics, 426-45.

Tiffan, B. (2009). Dealing with Difficult People. Physician Executive, 35(5), 86-89.                

Brinkman, R., & Facilities, B. (2009). Dealing with difficult people: bringing out the best in others, even at their worst.

Selinger, C. (2008). Dealing With Difficult People. IEEE Spectrum. doi:10.1109/MSPEC.2008.4687361

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