The Power of Brevity and Clarity when Dealing with Difficult People

“The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.” ~Thomas Jefferson

Most of us have experienced conflict with co-workers or clients at work. Managing conflict is different for everyone. Some run away from conflict. Some address it fearlessly. Most are in-between.

But, what if it’s not just resolving conflict that’s difficult. What if the person we are dealing with is incredibly challenging. All of us have experienced an interaction with someone that escalates or avoids and the problem does not get resolved. Are you thinking about someone right now?

Brevity and clarity are our best options for resolving the problem. When we are brief and clear – we make good sense. We set a natural boundary around the problem. When we ramble, we make the situation worse. Furthermore when dealing with a difficult person, it is paramount we are brief and clear to mitigate argumentativeness.

When in high stakes, high intensity situations, some over-explain and repeat. Others go silent. Now, add a difficult person into the mix, and, well, you see where I’m going.

When you’re going to have a challenging conversation with a difficult person, remember to be brief and be clear then remember these 5 points before going into the meeting:

  1. Focus on Problem not the person: To remain brief and clear, we must commit to focus on one problem, one topic. Focus on the   behavior.
  2. Know Thyself and Plan your responses: Be aware of your triggers and plan how you’ll respond when you’re triggered. Remember it’s not personal. Avoid overreacting.
  3. Use Visualization: Before you go into the meeting, visualize a positive resolution. See yourself talking and responding in a clear concise manner.
  4. Focus on facts only. Brevity and Clarity go out the window when we move beyond the topic being addressed. Focusing on the facts = Brevity and Clarity.
  5. Seek Feedback from a neutral 3rd party if necessary. Feedback is the breakfast of champions! Having someone walk you through different scenarios allows practice, planning and a different perspective.

Let us know some of your challenges in communicating with difficult people.

Fearless – Taking on the Workplace Bully

You’ve had a great weekend and getting back to work doesn’t seem so bad this week. Traffic is heavy yet it’s moving at a steady pace. You make a few calls on the way to work. You pull into the office parking lot and your ready to go.

As you make your way to your desk, your boss (or co-worker) approaches you and says in a loud and condescending way, “You seem to be pretty relaxed for someone who dropped the ball on our most important deadline!”

Change “project” to any of your responsibilities at work. Change “deadline” to any thing else important that is fitting for you job. One thing we can’t change is the unprovoked attack by a person who has no sense of the impact of their actions on us. They have no sense of the impact on morale around us. Or, they do understand the consequences of this behavior and choose not to care in that moment.

Bully in the Workplace?

While bullying behavior is derailing for most, it doesn’t have to be. Over the next few months we will be talking about resolving conflicts with difficult people.

Today we’ll start with mindset. We take can charge of any situation if we’re prepared. In this particular situation there are two important start points:

    1. We need to assess the situation. Is our boss or co-worker’s behavior one incident or is it chronic behavior?If it’s one episode over a significant period of time, we may be able to reasonably discuss the person’s actions. Usually, they’re embarrassed about their behavior and will keep it in check in the future. We also may be able to forgive the behavior more readily.If it is chronic behavior, we need to be more strategic. The strategic mindset starts with our self-talk. When bullying, aggressive behavior occurs, we need to take space and think about what happened. To be effective and appropriate in our response, it’s vital to say to ourselves, “this is not about me.” Depersonalizing the incident will make it easier to respond to and let go of the attack.  Next, we need to plan our response to the bully about their behavior. If we go underground and avoid it, it will only happen again. (more on this next time)


    1. Practice: Rehearsing our response and the potential excuses, blame and minimization by the bully are important for two reasons. We are specific and to the point about how this person’s behavior is inappropriate.And two, we know what potential responses to expect. Becoming fearless when it comes to conflict helps create a more effective workplace as problems are addressed as they arise.Also, bullying behavior that is not addressed opens up the door for a cascade of problems down the line.

    Please send your responses and thoughts. We would like to hear about your most challenging work situation with a difficult person and may use it as an example in our next newsletter.

    How to Deal with Difficult People

    Quote of the Week:

    “Difficult People are your key to self-empowerment, you need to learn how to cope with them, and not let them dominate and affect you.” – Janice Davies

    What does this quote bring to mind? What personality type is a challenge for you? What have you done to overcome this difficult person? Please let us know more via the comment section below.

    We have all come across difficult people at work. In my experience, a challenging person may leave me stifled and frustrated. I may not be as efficient and effective as I’d like to be. When working with a problematic person, a red flag is fatigue and irritation after spending time with that person. 

    Yet, these are signals that there’s work to be done. I can avoid it or step up to the challenge. If I accomplish this task it may enhance my career while possibly helping the other person.

    Obviously, not all disagreements and personality clashes can be attributed to difficult people, yet there certainly are extreme cases where a co-worker can make it virtually impossible for you to work together creating an almost toxic work environment.  

    Questions to ask yourself:

    1. How long will I be working with this individual?

    2. How important is my relationship with this person to my work and the bottom line?

    3. What areas of communication do I need to address personally? Am I paying attention or distracted? What’s my contribution to this issue?

    4. Do I have the ability to empathize with this individual or some part of them? 

    5. What role do I play in this challenging situation?

    6. What type of person is this? Aggressive, shy, passive-aggressive? What approach works best with their type?


    6. Tips to Deal with Difficult People

    1. Get feedback from others about yourself with someone you trust. Ask how they experience your communication style and if they see roadblocks.

    2. Avoid gossiping about the person. Anger feeds anger. Negativity Feeds Negativity. The situation becomes unnecessarily magnified. 

    3. Take time out. Practice and plan your interactions. Learn effective communication tools when working with certain personality types.

    4. Avoid taking this situation personally. You are probably not the first to feel frustrated with this person. 

    5. Hold your ground by communicating rather than arguing. Set boundaries rather than allow angry or inappropriate behavior to impact you.

    6. View the situation as an opportunity to learn rather than avoid.  It’s important to understand that these interactions   are a part of work and life. They will happen many times throughout our existence. We have the opportunity to improve and feel empowered or remain stagnant and uncomfortable when dealing with these situations. 

    In our next post we’ll talk about “Types of Difficult People” and how to recognize and cope with them.

    Thank you for reading. Have a great weekend.


    Working with Difficult People

    It is impossible to unconditionally like everyone you meet and the same goes true for your workplace. At work you are expected not only to be constantly around people that can be labeled as ‘difficult’, but to interact with them, work with them as a team, and perhaps take orders from them in some cases. The idea that they are difficult is no doubt portrayed by their behavior towards others or yourself that puts you off and makes working with them a pain.

    What Are Difficult Coworkers Like?

    Difficult people may have one or several of the following character and behavior traits:

    • Being talkative and not listening enough
    • Excessive complaining/whining
    • Overly critical
    • Dominating over equals
    • Being rude and disrespectful
    • Unreliable and slacking on commitments
    • Not giving others due credit for their work
    • Argumentative

    This list is by no means exhaustive; it points out some of the common issues employees have with other workers at their organizations and offices. We all know of some people, or at least one person, who has problems like these and we wish to stay away from them as much as possible. However, it is important to work on better ways of dealing with them and improving work relationships so your productivity and career do not suffer.

    How Can I Effectively Work With Difficult People?

    Since it has already been pointed out, running away is usually not an option to get away from people you do not like unless the situation has become so extreme that you are willing to quit your job. With effort you can help smoothen out many of your unpleasant work relationships and help build a better, more conducive environment for everyone.

    Firstly, try to evaluate the person and your dealings with them in an objective, unbiased manner. Often, previous experiences and unconscious bias makes us judgmental about a person and affects our future interaction. Figure out if there really is a problem or if you are just overreacting and judging people in a flawed, unfair manner. Give others the benefit of the doubt.

    Realize that it is near impossible to change someone else to your liking – so work on the things that you can change and are in your control. This involves your thinking and your behavior! Since you are the one being affected by someone else, you should take the initiative in improving your communication.

    When communicating with the person, keep calm and your anger under control. Stay quiet and actually listen to what he/she is trying to say; not just the overall theme, but underlying tones that will tell you why that person is behaving the way they do or what exactly they are trying to say beneath the rough manner. Don’t counter an attack with an attack; avoid conflict by letting the other finish and then asking questions to start a productive problem-solving process rather than the usual argument.

    With constant complainers and pessimistic coworkers who end up sapping your energy and dampening your own morale, avoid times where they can engage you in useless conversation or change the topic to something less morbid. Counter their whining with cheerfulness until they realize they cannot constantly victimize themselves in front of you.

    Once you are willing to change your own attitude and responses, difficult people will no longer be able to feed off your reactions and relations should improve. Lastly, enlist the help of a boss if things are getting out of hand.

    Dealing with Poor Performers

    We are working in a world where no one is perfect or equally talented in what he does. So some of us are sometimes left behind while extraordinary and hardworking performers raise the bar to a whole new level. Just because the performer is a little behind doesn’t mean that he is lazy or a bad worker. There are many factors that will determine whether the performer really did perform poorly. There are always simple steps and factors to analyze the true reason of poor performance and how we can change that.

    Who is responsible?

    Firstly, always make sure who performed badly. Sometimes we hire the wrong people to do the wrong work and blame them for unsatisfactory performance. For example, a secretary is not responsible for assuring that the manager’s computer and documents are properly working and arranged. His/her job is to assist the manager and it is the I.T department’s job to make sure all computers and systems are working efficiently and safely. You can always refer to the job description of a post to know what jobs you are responsible for.


    Now that you know who is responsible, figure out the problem. Sales reps are usually dismissed because of not reaching quotas. As a manager we need to be smart and recognize the origin of the problem. Listening is the key here. Allow the employee to make his case and justify poor performance. Sometimes the reasons can be legit. It’s not the rep’s fault the market is falling and people are opting for substitutes of the product, or if the worker was not given specific instructions and training in what his quota really is and how to achieve it. The company must assure that all employees are effectively informed about their goals. Setting up better goals than before is not so easy, we must always figure out a game plan for them in the beginning so that they know what to do. Another key is not to compare the employee with other colleagues. Another rep might just have gotten lucky in filling his quota because one company bought all his supply.

    SMART Goals

    Set specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely goals for the employee. Assigning the employee with immeasurable and unrealistic goals is pointless. Set for them new goals that you know an employee can achieve in a realistic time period.


    Now that you have re-assigned the employee and set up new goals for them, you need to re-evaluate the performance. This must be done according to the goals set for them before. Of course any assistance needed would have been provided as discussed by the manager and the employee while setting those goals. If besides such efforts and motivation, the employee fails to reach the new goals, then he/she has failed.

    Disciplinary Action

    It now comes to down to company policy on what action to take. Most companies tend to dismiss while others provide more guidance and training for poor performers. It all depends on the company policy.

    Any manager should always first find the root cause of poor performance and try to change it. Giving on employee can be very de-motivating and stressful for others and sometimes unfair for the poor performer. Reasons for poor performance can be legitimate and all we would need is a little understanding to see that.