How to Make Difficult Workplace Behaviours a Little Easier

Interpersonal and Communication Skills - © Performance Management Consultants

Every workplace is composed of a diverse array of people, and the personalities and preferences that accompany them. For the most part, this is great — with a plethora of perspectives comes a unique mix of strengths that can be combined and honed to make for an effective, efficient team.

Of course, it’s not always smooth sailing. As a matter of fact, it rarely is. Because in the diverse population of a workplace, there’s bound to be some individuals that display difficult behaviour. In fact, it’s more than a little likely that you yourself have been guilty of this behaviour! Whether it’s workplace habits, communication style, attitude or any number of factors, spending your career working alongside a person who can challenge us can have negative consequences for an entire team.

If you’re looking to improve your workplace and enhance employee satisfaction (which is so often tied to performance), addressing difficult behaviour is a good place to start. Here’s what you need to know:

Identifying Difficult Behaviours

The first step to dealing with difficult behaviours is identifying them. This might sound easy enough, but can be challenging because what constitutes “difficult” is often subjective. What may irk you might be enjoyed by fellow co-workers.

Complicating the issue further is the nature of cultural differences. Different backgrounds bring with them unique forms of communication, displays of respect, and interpersonal tactics. Encouraging a diverse workplace is important, so separating behaviour that might be new to you from behaviour that is downright difficult is essential.

So, what exactly is difficult behaviour? It’s one of those things that when you really see it, you REALLY know it. It might manifest as constant complaining, criticizing others in a non-constructive manner, or repeated disruptions of fellow coworkers. What difficult behaviour does is increase the difficulty of participating in a collaborative and effective fashion in your workplace — and can usually be attributed to one, or a small handful of individuals.

Here’s the rub; it’s not always a simple task of letting someone go because they’re exhibiting traits of difficult behaviour. Maybe they’re a high performer regardless, maybe their exit will hurt team morale more than their presence. Whatever the case, managing this behaviour might simply be the most practical solution.

How to Manage Difficult Behaviour in the Workplace

Everyone has their own tried-and-tested strategies for promoting collaborative behaviour. Not to mention, every individual and situation is unique, which makes it difficult to provide a concrete list of how to manage every difficult workplace behaviour. That said, there are certain overarching techniques that are applicable in a lot of scenarios. These include:

Actually address your concerns: We’ve all been there — silently fuming while someone is being difficult. Whether it’s a social interaction or that of an co-worker, direct confrontation can be ticky for a lot of people. But in the case of difficult workplace behaviour it’s a must, and it needs to occur before chronic resentment sets in. By directly addressing the behaviour in question you can foster personal growth and effective change instead of broadsiding them when the problem has become too severe to manage simply.

Take time to prepare for your conversation, so you’re not winging it when the moment comes. Keep a clear objective in mind so you can establish a real, desired outcome, and use “I” Statements so that you ensure you’re taking responsibility for your own thoughts and feelings. By employing techniques like The Assertiveness Formula, you can be direct while still displaying your respect for the person you’re communicating with.

Keep your cool: It’s a completely understandable reaction to become frustrated with someone’s difficult behaviour. If it comes to the point where a confrontation is required, you might be inclined to lose your cool. However, not only is this poor workplace etiquette in general, anger rarely serves to advance your goals of behaviour management. It can develop hostility, injure relationships and reduce morale. When addressing difficult behaviour, ensure you do so with a level head.

Be specific with your concerns: Whether it’s excessive complaining, disruption or any other kind of behaviour that fits under the umbrella of “difficult,” when it comes time to deal with it, you have to do so with extreme specificity. The reasons are clear: the person with the behavioral issues isn’t aware, even though it’s probably pretty obvious to those around them. It may have been hinted at before, or vague reprimands issued, but if it’s come to the point of a real management intervention, you need to ensure you’re prepared with specific examples to help coach them on improvement. If they don’t have clear insight into the ramifications of their actions, they won’t know why — or how — to change.

Get their perspective: Getting buy-in is extremely important if you want to effect lasting change in someone’s behaviour. It can be really hard on the ego to hear direct, pointed criticism, even if it rings true, so it’s important that the person you’re coaching has time to share their perspective. What they have to say might be skewed by their bias, but it’s nonetheless a good idea to listen — their perspective on an issue might give you greater insight into what triggers their behaviour or why they weren’t aware of it before.

Try to encourage the person displaying difficult behaviour to come up with their own plan, because it’s a lot more difficult to argue with your logic than another person’s. Instead of telling them what do do, ask what they could do to show an improvement, and make suggestions only when absolutely required. This will help to establish a more concrete plan of action, and one they might actually stick to.

Establish a course of action: As helpful as a conversation is, an action plan is essential to promote real and lasting self-improvement. It offers a good excuse for a touch point to measure improvement, and will act as a useful referral document for the person with behaviour issues. And, if the action plan isn’t followed, it provides a logical next step for more drastic workplace consequences while concretely establishing a preference for their improvement.


Dealing with difficult behaviour in the workplace is — well — difficult. It’s a sensitive subject to broach, and has to be handled as such so as not to affect the morale and camaraderie of the workplace at large.

While every case is different, there are some basic tactics you can employ to improve behaviour without more severe consequence. By being specific, measured and allowing them to share perspective, you can encourage personal growth without alienation, making for a more productive enjoyable workplace, with less difficult behaviour.

Improve Your Skills

To develop your skills further, check out our course on Dealing with Difficult Behaviours. This workshop will provide you with practical tools and skills to handle difficult people whether or not you have sufficient positional authority. Register today!

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