Management Articles


Who’s Difficult….not me

By: Dr. Marilyn Manning

Marilyn Manning, Ph.D., CMC, CSP, and CEO and founder of The Consulting Team, LLC, is an international author, speaker, and consultant. She specializes in interactive speeches, workshops, and consulting in the areas of Leadership, Teamwork, Conflict Mediation, Executive Coaching, Meeting Facilitation, Strategic Planning, and Communication. 94% of Dr. Manning’s work is repeat business. For more information about Dr. Manning and The Consulting Team, LLC go to her website at or contact, 650-965-3663.

Why is it that every place you work and most organizations you join have something frustrating in common: difficult people. We can all spot them. They are the high maintenance ones, those that are overbearing, sneaky, wishy-washy, passive aggressive, or boastful. It’s funny how easy it is to point the finger and say, “boy, she’s a brat.” or “He is such an egomaniac.”

But most of us never consider ourselves to be “difficult.” If our behavior is challenging, we are justified. There is good reason if we get upset or act emotional. It’s the stress, or the idiot who cut us off, or we just aren’t feeling well, so we can’t help ourselves. Aren’t those the times that we truly appreciate forgiveness, compassion, or just an empathic ear. When we are not at our best we want others’ understanding, not judgment, criticism and for sure…

Now hear me, all you men reading this, for sure, we don’t want someone saying: “here’s the answer to your problem. Get over it.” We want the ear, not the solution.

Do we, as women, have a harder time dealing with these difficult people? Or admitting that we may be the guilty party? Having been a conflict mediator for many years, I say “yes.” Women value their friendships and relationships at work. We connect. We want to be liked and have a support network. This is good….and this can be bad.

We may prefer to talk about difficult Nan to our friend Sally rather then tell Nan to her face. Why? We don’t want to hurt Nan’s feelings. But, the minute we do this….guess what…yup, we are in the gossip chain. We want Sally to agree with us, our side. We start pitting one against the other. Not meaning to fan the fire, but in our desire to be liked, we can turn into gossips and very indirect communicators, thus becoming the “sneak”.

Let’s look at some other difficult behaviors. Some people get overly defensive when their efforts or work is criticized. Others seem to agree with everything to your face, then later express their real feelings behind your back. Some individuals always think they are right and everyone else is wrong. When we encounter any of these behaviors, we tend to run the other way and avoid the situation or complain about it to a friend.

Seven Difficult Behaviors to Think About:

I believe that people with difficult behaviors are not getting their needs met, ourselves included. They may need to feel validated, understood, respected or recognized. Instead they feel frustrated. Let’s look for opportunities with each of these behaviors to understand the need and to therefore understand their point of view. Here are seven common types:

  • the aggressor
  • the egotist
  • the sneak
  • the victim
  • the negator
  • the super agreeable
  • the unresponsive

Aggressive Behaviors

Egotists and aggressors have angry, confrontational and sometimes even abusive behavior. They are not able to appropriately handle their frustrations, but their attacks are usually not personal. They have a pattern of reacting harshly to certain stimuli when their need for validation goes unmet. When have you been aggressive? Most of us, if falsely accused of something, will attack back.

So what should we do? Try to call the attacker by name: “Keri, let me hear your side of the issue. I'd like to hear what is upsetting." Using the person’s name and speaking with understanding, can help move the conversation into the positive. Once they have a chance to vent and feel validated, attackers are often open to finding a resolution.

Egotists are generally experts in their field and expect acknowledgment and recognition for their expertise. When needs are not met, they can be intimidating and aggressive. If you are the expert in the meeting, and being ignored, don’t you just want a little respect. That can be the answer. Try complimenting the egotists even though you want to wring their neck.

Other behaviors

The Sneak will take potshots and is often sarcastic. Most of us fall into this behavior when we are talking behind someone’s back. As much as women like to personalize, don't react to any attacks. You might say, "Terry, do you have a different point of view?" rather then withdraw or attack back.

The Victim sees everything as negative. We all have our days when nothing goes right. Don’t you get tired of always being “on top of things.” Why not complain and whine a little? Again, we don’t want a solution, but we just need a little understanding. When you meet another whiner, you might say: "I'd like to work with you to improve things. Could we try this together?"

Do you think anyone would accuse you of being a Negator? Negative, stubborn and stuck in your narrow beliefs? When you run up against someone in this stance, do you run the other way? We suggest you stay positive, but realistic. Don't engage in an argument, but hear them out. Let them vent so you meet their need for respect and trust.

Some Very Difficult Behaviors

If you are the type who likes to please, keep the peace, and find yourself saying “yes,” too often, you may be a Super-agreeable. You probably appear friendly and approachable, but with a very strong need to be liked. You hate to say "no," tending to over promise and then getting way stressed out. And if you have to deal with one of these types, get very clear agreements with them. Show personal interest to help build trust.

Do you have those days when you want to avoid the world. Everyone is an interruption. And you want to withdraw. You may be seen as the Unresponsive. These types need to be drawn out and feel included. Don't be tempted to finish their thoughts. Just wait in silence. Give them time to prepare their answers or solutions. Don't expect them to react on the spot. Just like all the other types, they want respect. Don’t we all?

Try some of these strategies, but Know When to Give Up, let go, and move on.

© Copyright 2008, Dr. Marilyn Manning

Other Articles by Dr. Marilyn Manning

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


Place "+" (without the quotes) in front of words that must appear; "-" to exclude articles with certain words; and put double quotes around phrases. For example, fantastic search will find all case studies with either the word "fantastic" or "search" (or both). On the other hand, +fantastic +search will find only case studies with the words "fantastic" and "search". "fantastic search" will find only case studies that with the phrase "fantastic search". Note: Searches will not find words, such as 'management', that appear in more than half of the articles or words less than five letters long.


Would you like us to consider your own articles for publication? Please review our submission and editorial guidelines by clicking here.