Trying to Manage a ‘Difficult’ Person: Are they Taking Too Much Space in your Head?

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 13 March 2018
Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation
Issues covered:

Does a person on your team sap everyone’s energy?

Do you find yourself putting too much time and attention as a manager on their behaviours? 

Are you constantly listening to grumblings from others about them?  

When people come for coaching in these situations, they are usually looking for a list of strategies. How can they be stronger, firmer, more hard-nosed in ‘making the other person’ do what they should be doing. 

‘How could I be more robust with them…?’ or
‘How could I make them sit up and take on board what I’m saying?’  

A couple of months ago, I worked with Liz who manages a team of 8 people. She had reached the end of her tether dealing with a person on her team – let’s call him Tom, who has been difficult to deal with on many levels, over the previous 12 to 18 months. She wanted some techniques and strategies to help her address Tom’s behaviour.

It’s so tempting to think that if you could just find the right way to say something, talk to them, negotiate with them, cajole them or coerce them, things would be different. And, yes indeed, there certainly are ways of communicating and interacting with another person that can either escalate or de-escalate conflict. I have written a lot about these already here, here and here, for example.

But if the only thing that you needed when you are dealing with a difficult person was tips and techniques, life would be very simple indeed. The world abounds with self-help books and information on ‘how to’s’ of every type. Yet, for any of us when we are faced with a stressful and challenging situation, it’s not usually simply a question of lacking information or techniques.

Instead, it’s the amount of noise and stressful thinking that gets generated in our brains in situations that really stump us. It does begin to feel like they are literally ‘doing your head in’.  

Some of the things preying on Liz’s mind in the situation with Tom were:

  • Frustration and irritation that Tom isn’t fully performing in his role and is upsetting other people on the team
  • Concern that performance deadlines won’t be met and the knock-on impact this will have on the customer and productivity
  • Frustration at the amount of time that she has to spend listening to Tom’s colleagues complaining about his disrespectful behaviour towards them
  • Self-doubt that she hasn’t been managing the situation effectively and unease that some of this behaviour might be ‘her fault’
  • Helplessness because she has actually had a number of conversations with Tom to address various aspects of his behaviour but these have had little effect
  • Exasperation that her valuable time could be used so much more effectively if Tom would just do what he is paid to do.

In her latest book, The He’art of Thriving (2017), Kimberley Hare reminds us of one of the great adages in coaching: p=P-I

     Performance = Potential Minus Interference

This formula refers to the swirl of (usually negative) emotions and thoughts that are distracting us, and sabotaging our own sense of clarity and well-being, in any given situation.

For Liz, there is a whole ‘thought-storm’ ranging from frustration, exasperation to anxiety taking up space in her brain. And it’s impacting on her confidence, leaving her feeling helpless and unresourceful about the next steps to deal with Tom.

What can you do about this ‘interference’?

How do you manage when your head gets so full with a problem that you start to doubt yourself?

How do you get back into the driving seat and begin to trust again, your own inner knowing and common sense about how to manage a difficult situation?

Hare (2017) is one of a growing number of coaches and practitioners sharing a new and transformational paradigm* about the nature of the human mind and how our experience gets created.

‘Interference is always coming from our thinking in the moment, not our circumstances or the external world’ (Hare, 2017).

She points to two key and essential truths about how our minds work:

  1. The human mind only works one way: from the inside-out:

Your mind (rather than what is happening around you) generates your moment-to-moment experience of any situation. You cannot have an experience without your thinking being involved.

  1. We all have a built-in design for success, well-being, clarity and creativity:

Whether you believe it or not, you have an innate and inherent source of insight and wisdom that can provide you with fresh and creative solutions to any problem you encounter.

These two truths might sound simplistic and aspirational. But the implications have enormous potential to transform your personal and professional life.

The more deeply you understand and realise these two facts, the more you thrive.

Going back to my client Liz above, here’s what Liz began to ‘see’, as we explored the depth of these two truths.

First, she realised that, tempting as it was to see Tom as the ‘cause’ of her stress and frustration, that experience was being generated in her own mind. Knowing she has 100% responsibility for where her experience in any moment comes from gave her back a sense of power and psychological freedom. She no longer felt a victim of Tom’s behaviour.

‘You can never experience anything but your own thinking. It’s just not possible. Seeing this fact is like releasing the emergency brake of a sluggishly moving car. In the next moment performance improves’
Invisible Power, Insight Principles at Work: Everyone’s Inner Capacity: Manning, Charbit & Krot (2015)

Secondly, she realised (contrary to other ‘stress management’ training she had attended) that she didn’t have to try and ‘manage’ or stop her thinking about Tom and the situation.

Knowing instead that underneath all the barrage of negative thoughts and feelings she is having about Tom, her mind has its own innate self-correcting mechanism that will always kick in.

She could see that all she had to do was take a step back, get quiet and let her own inner knowing emerge, about where next to go, in dealing with the situation with Tom.

So you are thinking…what happened to Tom?

Did Liz pull off some miracle that transformed his behaviour? Probably not. (And that’s not what this post is about!)

But she did feel a lot lighter, more at ease and so much clearer about what the next steps she had to take around managing him. She also found that much of the worry and rumination about Tom as a ‘big problem’ had dropped away. She was back feeling confident and in control and had a renewed energy and focus to get on with her work.

‘Everyone in this world shares the same innate source of wisdom but it is hidden by the tangle of our own misguided personal thoughts.’
Sydney Banks


Curious to learn more?

I have been studying and learning about this approach for the past three years and am applying it in particular, to support Managers and Leaders dealing with challenging and intractable conflict situations.

Known as ‘The Inside Out Paradigm’ or ‘Three Principles of Mind Consciousness and Thought’ (see for example this website: Three Principles Global Community or the references above) it is increasingly being shared and taught in a variety of contexts. Ranging from businesses, schools, hospitals, multi-national corporations, prisons, social services etc. it is one of the most effective ways to achieve well-being, resilience as well as effortless success.


This article is correct at 13/03/2018

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Mary Rafferty
Consensus Mediation

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