How to Deal with Difficult People

No one wakes up and says, “I’m going to be a problem today.” Yet life happens, and that can seriously impact your projects. How you deal with difficult team members is what really matters. The following video gives you practical techniques to deal with all types of people so you can ensure the success of your work.

In Review: How to Deal with Difficult People

In the video above, Jennifer Bridges talked about one of the most important aspects of project management—leadership—and specifically how to manage difficult team members. One thing to keep in mind is that people rarely set out to be difficult. Instead, they may have legitimate concerns that if mitigated, could solve their problem and yours. For example, a team member might:

  • Be assigned the wrong role
  • Have unrealistic deadlines
  • Have not been asked for input, and, if so, their input isn’t taken seriously.

Sometimes their behavior is what we witness first and therefore react negatively. Rather than assume the worst, give the team member the benefits of the doubt. So what are the best ways to deal with difficult team members?

  • Listen, seek to understand them
  • Ask what they need
  • Have empathy

Pro-Tip: Remember that everyone has good days and bad days and “being difficult” is only a problem when it’s a repeat pattern. Studying personality types and their impact on team building is an industry in and of itself, but researching personality types such as Myers-Briggs or other methods can help you know what’s natural behavior for that person, versus out-of-bounds behavior that requires you to act.

Take it further: To learn more about what makes a good project leader, watch Susanne Madsen’s video How to Influence Different People on Your Team.

That’s only an overview of Jennifer’s discussion on leading and managing difficult people. We hope you found it as interesting and informative as we did.

Thanks for watching!



Hello, I’m Jennifer Bridges (formerly Whitt), Director of

Welcome to our whiteboard session today on how to deal with difficult people. It’s another one of those topics where I can do a series or probably write a thesis. Because there’s a lot of information for this. This is truly where project management comes from knowing the table stakes of project management versus the leadership or the soft skills of project management. It’s the area where we go into this subjectiveness.

I firmly believe that people don’t normally set out to be difficult. I think they’re set up to be difficult. For instance, with the exception of a few. I think most people, they don’t get up saying, ‘hey what a great day. I think I’ll be difficult today.’ I think they’re more set up. I think it looks something like this. If this is the difficult person it’s like, they get in a situation on the project and they’re trying to say, ‘but wait a minute, I don’t mean to be difficult.’ They may even say that to you. Then the project manager comes back with something like, ‘I know, I know, but you know we have our project constraints, we have our overruns and we have our underruns, we have our deadlines.’ You know how it goes. And they’re really thinking, ‘god, what a difficult person.’

Well, here’s what it looks like. How are people set up? I think sometimes people are set up on our team. Where we put them in the wrong role. They have the wrong role where they have no training or no support. Or, they may be doing tasks that they hate or do not want to do. Typically those are the tasks that anybody does, usually we hate them or don’t want to do them if we don’t have the training or maybe we’ve been there done that.

Unrealistic deadlines with no flexibility or they have no say so. They may already know, and you as the project manager may know that they’re dealing with a difficult timeline and there’s no way to get out of it.

Unable to provide input. If the person has no way to put input into a problem or a process that they know how to solve or improve then that gets frustrating for them. Sometimes they just happen to be at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Under these scenarios, when we set up the people on our team, the difficult people, then how do we deal with this. Number 1, we need to listen and seek to understand what the person is saying. Sometimes if we just take the time to listen and consider what they’re trying to tell us, that means a lot. They actually feel like they’re being heard. We acknowledge their concern, their issue, their problem, their perspective or maybe a suggestion. Again, by doing that, they feel like, ‘hey, I’ve been at least heard.’

And then we ask them what they need. Is that, they may need more details or information on a project. They may need more time, they may need some resources, additional training. Did they need help or support? Then, once we give that, and then provide that, that can ease their frustration.

But also, here’s the tough one. We may need to embrace how we might be like them. Sometimes we consider people difficult people when we see things in others that others are acting out that maybe we don’t embrace in ourselves we know that’s there. Maybe that we don’t embrace in ourselves, or we think that other people won’t accept.

For instance, I was on a project in another country where we were eating with our project team and one of the project team members started asking for a lot of specific things that weren’t available in that country. So, amazingly enough, she got everything she asked for. But it made me feel uncomfortable, and I thought, ‘god, can you imagine, can you believe the nerve of her to be asking?’ Well, in truth is, she got everything she wanted, but it was within me I thought, ‘god, you know, those are the things I want to ask for, but I’m too afraid because I’m afraid someone will think I’m difficult.’ Sometimes there are things we need to embrace about ourselves.

And the last tip is to educate yourself. This is an area where it’s very subjective. It’s one of the toughest things we do as project managers. The best thing you can do is educate yourself. There are a lot of resources out there on how to deal with difficult people.

If you need a tool that can help you manage your project and deal with difficult people along the way, then sign up for our software now at

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