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Difficult team members made easy

‘Difficult people’ come in all shapes and sizes. Their behaviours range from tears to gossip to outright temper tantrums. Sometimes those behaviours are short-lived. In these cases, challenging behaviour is probably sparked by a temporary stressor such as illness or work overload and can become exacerbated over the festive season. In other cases, difficult behaviour happens over and over again. How should you respond when someone else resorts to hard-to-handle behaviour? Here are our top tips from the experts:

Eleanor Shakiba – author of Difficult People Made Easy

Use safe starter phrases for giving behavioural feedback

It’s important to keep your feedback neutral and emotionally safe. It helps to use ‘starter phrases’ to frame your feedback messages. Examples of neutral starter phrases include:

  • I’d like to talk to you about some behaviours I’ve noticed…
  • Yesterday I heard you speaking to …..about….I was concerned by the volume of your voice during that conversation


Karen Meager – author of Real Leaders for the Real World

Often people who routinely display difficult behaviours have issues with managing their anger or stress. They may not have learned to manage their frustrations and disappointments well and may also have a lack of self awareness. This combination is every manager’s nightmare.

If you want to change the behaviour whilst respecting that the person may have difficulties, I suggest escalating your intervention at each stage.

  1. Give feedback on the behaviour early.
  2. After two of three repetitions of giving feedback, talk to them about what’s behind it to ssess their level of awareness and understand their story.
  3. Offer some kind of coaching or counselling support.
  4. If they refuse, be clear about the next steps in terms of a formal process.
  5. Make sure you carry through your commitments throughout the process, as they will not respect or trust you if, for example, you explain the next steps are a formal process and then you don’t do it.

This process gives people the best opportunity to change and gives you a clear structure to follow that is fair and appropriate.


John McLachlan – author of Real Leaders for the Real World

There is another side to difficult behaviour and that is the people who enjoy it and are generally disruptive. A recent study in the UK showed that children who challenged the rules at school and home often go on to make great entrepreneurs. Disruptive behaviour can show spirit and risk taking that has its benefits. The key for these kind of people is to assess their value to the business versus the cost to the business and other people of managing that behaviour. The case of Jeremy Clarkson and the BBC is a classic example.

 Many organisations have their eccentric and the genius types’. Some industries absolutely need them. You cannot expect these people to conform but you can expect them to behave reasonably and respectfully to others. It is your call as leader to decide the boundaries for this. Disruptive people will need very strong leadership, so make sure they are managed by your strongest leaders who can hold the boundaries whilst holding them to account. And have someone ready to pick up the pieces in the event that they cause a catastrophe.


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