Volume 16, July 2002: Dealing with Difficult People

Keyzine: An E-zine for Leaders about the People Side of Business

Publisher: © Key Associates, LLC, 2002 ISSN # 1545-8873

“Never get angry. Never make a threat. Reason with people.” — Don Corleone, The Godfather

“Speak softly and carry a big stick.” — Conventional Wisdom

“It’s no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.” — St. Francis of Assisi

“To change our perspective in a conflict is to move from a point of view to a viewing point.” — Thomas Crum, The Magic of Conflict

“Don’t sweat the small stuff (but then it's all small stuff).”


  • What’s Hot in Leadership
  • Maintaining Yourself as a Leader
  • Frequently Asked Questions from Leaders
  • Educational Opportunities
  • Articles/Publications

What’s Hot in Leadership

  • Seeking to understand rather than affix blame.
  • Seeing yourself in a complex network of relationships, the interdependence of which is felt by all Its members. Your motions affect all. Yet you are not the cause of everything.
  • Learning to dance with conflict, without dominating or insisting on being right.
  • Acknowledging and appreciating the richness of differences.

Maintaining Yourself as a Leader

From time to time, everyone gets on someone’s nerves. No doubt, you have a subset of human interactions that are unpleasant on some account.

Your life is designed by choices. Is this an interaction you choose to improve in quality? If so, calming and distancing yourself is the first step to objectivity. Take a one-minute vacation, a few deep breaths, and get out of the heat of emotion.

You have to change, to change the dance. Return, align with them, and place your intent on redirecting the negative energy. Can you language a successful future for the relationship? “I want us to be successful at _____________.” Then dance toward it.

Frequently Asked Questions

“The toughest thing to handle for me is ‘snipes.’ How do I respond to ‘zingers’ and cutting comments?”
Never let the words pass without surfacing the remark(s) for a review. ‘That felt like a put-down … did you really mean to say what I thought I heard?’ Be willing to get whatever the message is, but draw the line on offensive language.
“We have a rash of chronic whining. How can I put a stop to it?”
In an earlier issue, we described holding a whine-and-cheese party, where it’s agreed that the participants may moan and groan, but after it’s over, it’s over. Move on to solutions. In general, don’t agree/disagree, but get specifics. Shift the discussion to involve them in problem-solving.
“Our work environment is full of untruths told by know-it-alls and gossipers. I don’t wish to play this game – how do I change it?”
Be factual; ask for the data. Check it out immediately. “Do you know that for a fact? How could we find out? Who would know?” Disclose your own perception of reality. Agree on a process to discover the facts, in a way that tries to save face.


Changing the Game: Effective Strategies for Difficult People is taught by Key Associates. Have a closer look:

“Because our effectiveness as leaders and team members depends on the appropriate management of differences, we need to learn how to get comfortable with conflict – and master proven ways to manage differences.”

Conflict and the Art of Intervention, another Key Associates course.


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