Managing Difficult People: Strategies for Success
Suzan Miller-Hoover DNP, RN, CCNS, CCRN-K
At some point during our professional work most nurses have all experienced working with a difficult colleague or have been difficult at some point; the difference is that difficult people have a pattern of difficult behavior. One motivation of difficult people is that they are able to wear people down to get what they want.
To effectively manage difficult people, you need to understand that you cannot always change the behavior, but you can change how YOU respond to it. Learn how to disengage so that you will not be pulled into the difficult behavior cycle (Sherman, 2012; Walker, 2018).
Recognizing the types of difficult people can help you learn how to effectively deal with them. The four most common types are:
• The Volcano: abrupt, intimidating, domineering, arrogant, prone to personal attacks and extremely aggressive
• The Sniper: highly skilled in passive-aggressive behavior, take pot shots, engage in non-playful teasing, are mean spirited and work to sabotage leaders
• The Chronic Complainer: whiny, find fault in every situation, accuse and blame others for problems, are self-righteous and see it as their responsibility to complain to set things right.
• The Clam: disengaged, unresponsive, close down when you try to have a conversation, avoid answering direct questions and don’t participate as members of the team.
Do you recognize these types in the difficult people you have dealt with? Dealing with difficult people takes a concerted effort and strategy. Try the following:
• Don’t try to change them
o Change will only occur when the person recognizes and takes responsibility for their actions
• Don’t take it personally
o The behaviors reflect what is going on with the person not anything you have done or said
• Set boundaries
o Step away if you are being treated disrespectfully or if the person is yelling
• Acknowledge their feelings
o You do not have to agree with them to acknowledge how they are feeling
• Be empathetic
o Empathy may help de-escalate explosive situations
• Hold your ground
• Use fewer words
o Short, concise messages will drive your point home and set time limits
• Focus on the behavior not the attitude
• Focus on your body language
(Sherman, 2012; Walker, 2018)
There will always be difficult persons in our lives and workplace. To help manage the impact of dealing with a difficult colleague, consider adopting the strategies offered above. Taking a good look at how we deal with them can help diffuse the situation. Know yourself, help them.
Raising Teens Today.com (2018). Is my child vaping: here’s 9 signs to watch for. Retrieved from:
Sherman, R. O. (2012).
Charge nurse series part 5: managing difficult people. Retrieved from: https://www.emergingrnleader.com/charge-nurse-series/
Walker, A. (2018). Dealing with difficult patients. Retrieved from: https://nurse.org/articles/dealing-with-difficult-patients/
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