People are like a box of chocolates...
Difficult People Workshops

Responding Effectively to Disruptive Behavior

Disruptive behavior

People can sometimes be argumentative, disagreeable, angry, aggressive, bull-headed, uncommunicative, spiteful or hostile. Their behavior can disrupt operations and sabotage projects. The important question is: When you need to work with them, how should you respond to a person with disruptive behavior? The answer to that follows a second question: What is the outcome you would like to achieve with your response?

Difficult Behavior & Team Ecology

Team ecology

When people work together effectively, and there is a high level of teamwork and mutual respect, the result is great team ecology. But when the behaviors of people on the team become difficult, there is a tendency for the other members of the team to react negatively themselves, with equally unecological behavior such as gossip, avoidance and retaliation. When this happens, team ecology is eroded. If team members can respond to difficult behavior in a way that neutralizes that behavior and results in cooperation, team ecology is enhanced. It feels good to be part of a team with great team ecology, but everyone has to pitch in to make it work.

Ecological Interventions

Ecological intervention

Sometimes, the only way to keep team ecology from getting really bad is to initiate an ecological intervention - that is, to initiate a difficult conversation with a team member to confront unecological behavior and negotiate behavioral change. Many people would say this is the manager's job - and of course it is part of a manager's duties to foster teamwork. But in the best teams, the members themselves take responsibility for team ecology, and learn how to effectively confront and neutralize disruptive behavior when it occurs.

Negotiating Behavioral Change

Many people avoid confrontations because they have seen them escalate out of control, and they don't feel confident they have the skills or experience to ensure positive results.

Goals, roles & procedures

In our working with difficult people workshops and seminars, we provide participants with effective tools and techniques designed to get the right results. We teach participants how to conduct a three-part dialogue to negotiate behavioral change.

The first part of the dialogue establishes goals and confronts the difficult behavior. The second stage is geared towards establishing agreement on the roles and responsibilities of the people involved. The conclusion of the dialogue is a negotiation, focused on reaching an agreement for procedures going forward.

During our workshops, participants learn to apply this negotiation framework to a wide range of situations at work and at home. This simple-but-effective approach has enabled thousands of people to transform the way they work with difficult people.

Behavior Change Requests

Behavior change request

The heart of an effective dialogue is the behavior change request. Instead of blaming, accusation and innuendo, participants learn to focus on team goals and to make clearly-articulated, reasonable behavior change requests. The focus is not on past mistakes, but on future successes.

Nagging vs. Negotiating

Behavior change agreement

Nagging is telling people what you don't like and telling them what you want them to do. Negotiating means discussing team goals, getting agreement about roles, making behavior change requests and negotiating win-win agreements. Nagging may be quicker and easier... but it doesn't work. Once you learn how to negotiate a behavior change agreement, you'll never go back to nagging.

Taking the Leadership Role in Improving Team Ecology

Leadership role in team ecology

It is the leader's responsibility to improve team ecology. Not all managers are leaders and not all leaders are managers. A leader is someone who shows the way and inspires people to follow them. Every team needs more leading and following. Essentially, our working with difficult people workshops and seminars are leadership training programs, training participants to take an active role in improving team ecology, rather than reacting to difficult people with unecological behavior.


Working with Difficult People

"Life is like a box of chocolates... you never know what you're gonna get."


- Forrest Gump

In most cases you don't get to choose the people you work with, and statistically, it's very likely that some of them will be difficult people. If you were to make a list, do you think you could come up with at least five difficult people you have to work with? A more important question is this: If everyone on your team were to make a list of the difficult people they have to work with, how many lists would your name appear on?

We are all difficult sometimes. Stressful situations and negative responses from people can put just about anyone in a difficult mood. And then there are those chronically difficult people, the ones who always seem to be making it harder to get the job done. You may not be able to change all the difficult people in your life - but you can change the way people respond to you, by changing your own behavior.

Tools & Strategies that Work

In our working with difficult people workshops, we enable every member of your team to work effectively with difficult people by providing them with tools and strategies to change the way people respond to them.

Our definition of effective communication is this: "The effectiveness of your communication is measured by the response you get." This definition puts the responsibility on you to change the way you are communicating in order to get the response you want. Our tools and strategies will equip your team members with everything they need to get the right responses, even from difficult people.

Strategies for Working with Difficult People

the power of influence

The key to working effectively with difficult people is influence. Through your behavior and communication, you can influence people to cooperate, drop their defenses, and respond to you as a team member (rather than as an adversary).

In our working with difficult people workshops, we teach participants how to evaluate the dynamics of their working relationships, and how to develop strategies for effectively influencing direct reports, supervisors and coworkers to respond to them as team members.

Strategies that Don't Work

Avoidance strategies

When dealing with difficult people, everyone implements a strategy (whether conscious of that strategy or not). The most common difficult-person strategy is avoidance. This strategy might alleviate some of the pain of dealing with a difficult person, at least in the short-term; but it doesn't build teamwork and it often backfires - which creates even more difficult situations to have to deal with.

Another common strategy is to take an adversarial position toward the difficult person. Adversarial strategies come in three forms: passive, aggressive and passive-aggressive. A passive adversarial strategy results in you feeling taken-advantage-of and resentful. An aggressive strategy leads to arguments that get you nowhere. And a passive-aggressive strategy is an "I'll get even with you" tactic that always results in a breakdown in teamwork.

So why would anyone follow a strategy that doesn't work?

Effective Strategies that Work

Negotiation strategy

The best strategy is a planned strategy that focuses on the desired outcome. Most difficult people "strategies" are based on reactive tactics such as resistance, avoidance and retaliation. In our workshops we provide tools for planning difficult-people interventions, open discussions, negotiations and other actions designed to restore teamwork. It's not enough to plan a meeting to "work it out." You need tools and techniques that will keep you on track and prevent the meeting from getting derailed.

Our workshops not only include training in strategies, tools and techniques for working effectively with difficult people, but they also include role-play exercises to teach participants how to use these tools in various situations. You can never know for sure how a difficult person will respond to your intervention, but if your strategy includes effective methods for handling a wide variety of what-if scenarios (e.g., what if she shuts down and refuses to talk?), you can be prepared for whatever happens.

Our difficult-people strategies, tools and techniques are highly effective, but they require practice. In addition to engaging in role-play practice during the workshop, each participant develops individual strategies during the workshop for working with specific difficult people they encounter, both at work and in their personal lives. Our workshops are designed to prepare participants to immediately put these strategies into action, and to achieve positive results in the first days and weeks following the training session.

The Power of "Un-Insultability"

The behavior of difficult people can be insulting. But how do you feel and what do you do when you are insulted or offended? A perceived insult can instantly trigger your emotions and change your state from happy to angry. In that state, it's really difficult to do anything but react; and reactive behavior often sabotages your ability to achieve the best outcome. If you know any highly-insultable people, you have certainly seen how even small perceived insults can throw them into unresourceful states.

In our difficult-people workshops, we teach participants the skill of un-insultability. It's not about allowing people to get away with insulting and verbally-abusive behavior - it's about implementing an effective strategy that will end the disruptive behavior and achieve more productive results. In order to do that, you need to be in a resourceful state - not one in which your ability to think and act clearly has been compromised by your emotional reactions. We offer our workshop participants an un-insultability tool kit that they can use any time they realize their emotions have been triggered. The power of un-insultability gives you the ability to focus on your planned strategies and remain in control of yourself when you really need to be in control.

Teaching Team Members to Manage Team Ecology

Managing team ecology

If you manage a team of supervisors or a team of employees, you can't afford to play the role of difficult people cop. If your team members continually complain to you about difficult people and expect you to be the sheriff who establishes law and order on the team, you have a problem. Just as recycling advertising campaigns encourage everyone to pitch in, every member of your team needs to pitch in and do their part in managing team ecology. The ecology of the team is everyone's responsibility. That means every team member who encounters a difficult person has an obligation not to react in a way that will make the situation worse. Complaining, backbiting and passive-aggressive behavior is not ecological.

Our working with difficult people workshops are designed to establish new performance standards for working together that foster and improve team ecology. When the team as a whole learns to practice effective techniques for responding to difficult behavior, team ecology improves exponentially - and you don't have to play the role of difficult people cop. The value of training the whole team at the same time is that the workshop functions as a reset button, allowing everyone to reset their thinking and methodologies for dealing with difficult behaviors at once. And as team ecology improves, everyone feels the difference, which further increases each team member's motivation to pitch in.

Behavior Coaching for Difficult People

Coaching session

Some difficult people need extra help. Often, the most difficult people on the team have a management title. They may be more difficult to manage because of their positions; and all the while, their difficult behavior is poisoning team ecology. Managers with high employee turnover are often creating - or at least contributing to - the problem, through their own difficult behavior. If you have tried everything and have still been unsuccessful in changing a key employee or manager's difficult behavior, you may want to consider behavior coaching.

Roger Reece, who conducts our working with difficult people training workshops, is also a behavior coach. Contact us if you would like more information about our one-on-one telephone, Skype and onsite behavior coaching programs for employees and managers. Our Workplace Behavior Coaching website at will provide you with a detailed overview of our behavior coaching programs.

We Are All Difficult People Sometimes

The term "difficult people" has been around for years. Hundreds of books have been written on the topic of working with difficult people, and of course we conduct workshops on the topic ourselves. But we prefer to put our focus on difficult behaviors rather than on difficult people. What we teach is that we shouldn't expect to be able to remove difficult people from the team altogether; but we can use the right tools and techniques to effectively change behavior for the better. Because the fact is, we are all difficult people sometimes - or rather, we all behave in ways that can be difficult for those we work with. That doesn't make us bad. But it is an opportunity for behavioral change.

If you attend one of our working with difficult people workshops, you might expect the focus to be on the bad people. Instead, we focus on behavior - and the focus begins with you. You can't control the behavior of another person, but you can control your own behavior; and that's where our training starts. If you don't like the way a difficult person you work with is responding to you, remember our definition of effective communication: "The effectiveness of your communication is measured by the response you get." Our training classes teach ownership and accountability.

team building

You need to own your communication and the way you respond to others. Armed with self-awareness and the right tools and techniques, you have the power to change the way others respond to you. Even people who are difficult with everyone else will respond well to you when you become an effective communicator. It's all about improving your emotional intelligence. Please visit our Emotional Intelligence Workshops website at for more information on this topic.

Take the Necessary Steps to Improve the Ecology of Your Team

If the team ecology of your organization or work group can use improvement, contact us today to schedule a working with difficult people workshop. If difficult-people behaviors are left unchecked, the result is a continuous deterioration of teamwork, morale and overall performance. Many organizations with initiatives for continuous improvement would do well to begin measuring team ecology as well. This workshop could be the perfect step to take to begin a new initiative for team ecology improvement.

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