Managing Difficult People In A Project Team

07. December 2018 Uncategorized 0
Managing Difficult People In A Project Team

Being a manager involves working with different types of people and overseeing difficult team members can be very challenging as difficult people defy logic. Some are blissfully ignorant of the negative impact that they have on the team, and others seem to derive satisfaction from creating mayhem and pushing other people’s buttons. Either way, they create unnecessary intricacy, strife, and worst of all stress.

People today have a short fuse—everyone is stressed.  And when people are stressed, they can become difficult to be around. In a project team where diverse employees work in close proximity, chances are, you’ve worked with at least one difficult person and minor issues from difficult colleagues can become major distractions, and can even result in loss of productivity.  You recognize the behaviours of a difficult person, such as a bad attitude, indifference, difficulty handling change, and terrible customer service. Difficult people are passively aggressive or worse–they can be verbally aggressive.


Unfortunately, if you don’t address this kind of behaviour, one of two things will happen:

Team members will become resentful and think less of you as a project manager.

Team members will start modelling the behaviour of the person who is not being corrected.


It’s important to understand that there’s only one reason anyone behaves in an unacceptable manner: the person gets away with it! So, who’s responsible for difficult people? The answer is anyone who tolerates them. Every time you give in to a difficult person, every time you choose not to confront him or her, you allow a difficult person to continue their rude behaviour.

Typical difficult people often display the following attitude; he or she is the one who gets the better schedule, he or she may come in late or leave the office early, leaving his or her work for others to finish. The individual might take a longer lunch, hold long personal calls during work hours, or refuse to lend a co-worker a hand.

It important to understand that dealing with the issue will facilitate a more harmonious atmosphere in the office, leading to increased productivity, improved morale, and a healthier bottom line. Here are some tips, whether you are an employee dealing with a difficult supervisor, a worker dealing with a co-worker, or a manager dealing with a challenging employee:

Owner or Manager to Employee: A difficult employee can make a manager want to throw in the towel, give up on the employee, or even terminate him. Before you do that, consider these steps:

  • Be Aware– If you notice any change in an employee that appears to be on-going or results in a destructive workplace, you need to address the issue sooner rather than later.
  • Address– Take the time to talk to the employee in a private area. Chances are they will open up to you if they feel safe. Assure them you are there to help.
  • Listen– This is your time to really listen to the employee. Find out if the stress is coming from an internal or external source.
  • Respond – Use good judgment when you respond to the employee and let them know you are there to help. If an employee has been with the company for a long time, they are most likely an asset to your company. Tell them how you can help.
  • Plan– Work with the employee to develop an action plan on improving their attitude. If the problem is internal, explain exactly how you plan to deal with it. If the problem is external, suggest places the employee can get help like their church or a counsellor, recreational activities.
  • Follow-Up and open door policy– Follow-up with your employee on how they are doing. Encourage them when you see their attitude improve. Compliment them on their success and let them know you are always available if they need to talk.

Managers need to keep their eyes and ears open at the workplace. Tackle difficult employees head on with an effective plan and make your employees aware of your plan. Keep an open door policy so your employees know they can come to you at any time. Never judge the employee who is difficult due to an external or personal situation. Keep in mind that everyone has a different personality

Employee to Manager:  What if the difficult person is your boss or manager? Approach your employer or supervisor first by asking: “I need to talk with you about something.  Is now a good time?” If not, schedule a time to talk. Begin by expressing your intention and your motives. Explain your concern about a loss of business and unhappy clients, and that your intentions are to help make the workplace not only productive but also satisfactory to clients.

Another approach is to talk about how certain behaviours in the office are decreasing efficiency. Explain that you’d like to talk about ways to improve the systems in the office. By first addressing the issues as though you’re tackling a problem or a system issue. Always be tactful, professional, calm, and polite. You can also ask your employer or manager for his or her goals and offer to give suggestions to help meet those goals.

Employee to Employee:  If you have a problem with a co-worker, the best course of action is to go to that person directly. Do not talk about the issues with your fellow co-workers behind the other person’s back! Go to the person privately and tell them about it.

There are three steps to this.

  • Let the person know you’d like to talk about something that’s been bothering you. Ask him or her, “Is this a good time?”
  • Be specific. Begin by saying:  “I’d like to talk with you about this. This is how I felt when….” Speak only for yourself and how the behaviour affects you.
  • Describe what you would like to see changed. Try to resolve the issue first personally and privately. If the situation does not change, request a meeting between yourself, the other person and your employer.


Everyone can choose his or her attitude. Each day, when someone walks out the front door to go to work, that person has a choice in how his or her day will play out.  You can’t always choose the people who surround you but you can try to make them aware of their behaviours.  If you have a difficult person in your team, set the boundaries, explain your expectations, and then hold that person accountable.  Be calm when you’re doing this!  The person who is calm and asks the questions is the one in control.



By Tosan Ejeye Ossai

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