12 Tips to Manage Difficult People in Your Project

Editorial Team

Tips to Manage Difficult People

For most managers, the most difficult part of a project isn’t the work itself, but to manage the people involved in it. In this article, we’ll describe and address some commonly faced issues with respect to managing particularly troublesome people. These are the ones with whom, communication is a nightmare. You just naturally never seem to work well together. Making relationships work with them seems to be impossible, no matter what you do. What exactly could be the solution to this?  

Well, every manager would desire a project with ideal members and stakeholders, who are all incredibly cooperative and reliable. However, that’s an unrealistic expectation to have in any business environment. A team will always consist of a mixture of varying task roles and personalities. After all, diversity is often needed to create a versatile and productive crew.

At some point, you’re bound to come across stakeholders who are simply harder to manage. The way you handle this situation could have a significant impact on the success probability of the project. These people often display one of more of the following behaviors;

  • Refuse to work well as a team.
  • Disturb and/or disrupt the work of others.
  • Effective communication isn’t in their dictionary.
  • Reckless in their actions.
  • Pay no heed to deadlines at times.

To make sure your project succeeds, you must know how to manage such people tactfully. We’ve gathered 12 helpful points to make this easier for you, so keep reading!

1. Believe In Yourself – You Can Work Through It

Firstly, as cheesy as it sounds, you’ve got to genuinely have the self-belief that you can do this. You have to trust your managerial capabilities and commit to solving problems with this particular team member. Your thought process has to be positive all the way through, as that will translate into positive actions. There’s absolutely no room for negativity here because negativity is what you’re trying to cure in the relationship between you and this particular stakeholder.

2. Change How You Perceive Them

In the beginning, you’d obviously view this person in a bad light. It’s easy to perceive him as simply a selfish team member, who brings nothing but disruption in the task procedures. You might also have a perception that they have a personal grudge against you, the manager.

You’ll hardly find success with such a perception – even if your inclinations are true. This is because you’d naturally incorporate defensive aspects in your resolution strategy. This means you may subconsciously strategize to keep away from them whenever you can or to avoid confrontation unless absolutely necessary. In some cases, a strategy may even include objectives to isolate that person from the team.

As a more productive alternative, you should shift your opinions and perception about this person towards the positive end of the spectrum. No mentally sound individual wakes up and decides to cause problems, right? Shift your approach from rivalry to actually investigating and solving the underlying issue. Basing your resolution efforts on this approach will give you a much better chance at actually moving forward with this difficult stakeholder. After all, a pragmatic and professional manager needs to step up and show maturity at times like these.

3. Never Take It Personally, Ever

Whenever you see this nightmare stakeholder in any workshop, meeting, or even a discussion, you may feel an urge to argue with them to prove yourself and/or expose them. This wouldn’t improve the situation in any way, even if the argument goes your way. You’d only intensify the tension between you and them, pushing possibilities of resolution farther away. No professional manager would want that, would he?

Alternatively, you must separate your professional responsibilities from your emotional reactions. Managerial experts learn to rise above all emotionally triggering instances and remain calm. They act diplomatically in a way that brings them closer to their goal, even in the most chaotic and irrational situations.

4. Don’t Ignore Them

Paying no mind to difficult people in your project is hardly ever the solution as a manager, especially if they have a strong influence over the project. You simply can’t ignore the stakeholder who’s challenging the productivity of your project, as tempting as it seems. Their stance will not be softened in any way without taking appropriate steps as a leader.

If the troubling stakeholder has a high influence, ignoring them causes a ton of problems. Such as;

  • There would be no way for you to know and identify the underlying issue, which may cause the situation to worsen.
  • The stakeholder would possibly feel dishonored by your carelessness with respect to their issues. Your behavior could become questionable to others as well.
  • The stakeholder will have a chance to influence others to think and perceive things their way. The number of problematic stakeholders could multiply.
  • They will prepare sources to justify their concerns, some of which may actually be based on truth.
  • Subsequently, you would have to justify your stance and prove that your commitment towards the success of the project still persists.

To make sure events don’t follow this horrific direction, make sure you take steps to resolve and address issues at the earliest. Engage with your stakeholders more often to ensure a prevailing healthy-communication environment, where people aren’t afraid to speak out about their issues. Your position would be strong in the eyes of the people around you, and you’ll have people to aid you in resolving issues with problematic people.

5. Know Your Position And Support

Working on projects with highly demanding external stakeholders has challenges of its own. There’s always the threat of serious criticism from them when even the slightest bit of progress falls short of the planned outline. In such projects, the manager desperately needs a hundred percent backing from his own team. It’s imperative for the whole group to be on the same page, otherwise, failure could be imminent.

Here, your first priority becomes gaining and maintaining a position that’s agreed, accepted, and supported by all project members. Before you start dealing with challenging outside stakeholders, make sure your home team is free of any hard feelings towards you.

6. Separate The Person From The Problem

The objective is to work towards a point where you and this specific stakeholder recognize that you’re in the same team, working towards the same goal. Make the entire team understand that you’re all one unit, and the problems of one individual are the problem of the entire team. This helps the stakeholder feel a genuine sense of support and positivity, encouraging him to soften his stance for the team’s betterment. A good team leader does this effortlessly, ensuring unity and collaboration throughout the workgroup even when problems arise.

To achieve this state, you should first focus on engaging the particularly ‘difficult’ person. Talk to them continually and meet them personally more often. Listen to them respectfully and make sure you understand their standpoint clearly. More details on effective listening are mentioned in the latter part of the prose.

After deeply hearing them out, you’d be surprised to discover how much you’re already in agreement with them. Identify the root cause of the problem that this member is facing. Genuinely assure them that their issues won’t be ignored, and you’ll do your best to resolve them. You should also establish trust by accepting your faults that have affected them. Involve them in the resolution process while keeping the objectives of the business in mind. Lastly, clarify their responsibility and task roles to them, and let them know what your expectations are towards them.

Even after the conflict is resolved, maintain regular communication with them and don’t forget to acknowledge their improvements publicly!

7. Adjust Your Style And Apply Some Emotional Intelligence

Some difficult people simply may not be as bad as you think. Sometimes, people you perceive to be majorly disruptive may only seem that way due to a personality clash. Something simple like a mismatch in communication styles could cause magnified misunderstandings, causing managers to make a mountain out of a molehill. In situations like these, a combination of emotional intelligence and a slight switch-up of communication styles could go a long way.

For example, if you know that your stakeholder isn’t particularly tech-savvy, you could adjust accordingly. You should convey messages verbally or by calls instead of sending emails or online notices. Many huge conflicts can be avoided through minimal adjustments in your own communication style; it’s all about the right approach.     

8. Ask For Help

A certain worrisome situation with a stakeholder may be a first-time experience for many managers. In such cases, asking others for help is one of the best ways to go around such challenges. In no way would this undermine your competence as a manager, nor should this be perceived as a failure on your part. In fact, it takes a great manager to realize and apply the most effective tool at hand to solve particular issues.

Continually communicating with a senior program manager, project director, or other reporting authorities is an encouraged behavior for managers. Any significant problems that arise through the source of stakeholders should be brought to the attention of others who are in a better position to deal with it.  

9. Always Pause To Think

Never immediately react upon noticing a threat to your project. While it may anger you to find someone intentionally sabotaging the outcome of your project, a professional manager must pause and reflect deeply. What you say or do at this point in time could highly influence how things pan out. Collect your thoughts, give yourself time to think without the impact of emotions, and weigh the pros and cons of potential courses of action. You must break free of personal biases and decide your next step based on the best interest of the business.

10. Listen

Effective listening has to be among the top five most important qualities that a manager must possess. When dealing with particularly challenging people in your project, you must break down the walls of the negative tensions in between. In doing so, genuinely listening to the other party (in a way that shows them you care) can work wonders. The use of soft skills would help you much more than taking an aggressive stance in this particular scenario.

If you learn to listen well as a manager, it’ll help you foster mutual trust with people. Focus on these aspects of effective listening especially;

  • Refrain from interrupting; be patient and wait for them to finish before you respond.
  • Don’t listen to reply, but listen to understand.
  • Ask relevant and to-the-point questions that help you extract valuable information from the conversation.
  • Process the content of their speech and think about it before you reply.
  • Assuming anything or jumping to conclusions is a no-no.

11. Discuss Issues In Private

If you’re looking to actually solve problems, there’s no way to do it without confronting or communicating with the stakeholder. However, it’s best to conduct this discussion one-on-one in private. This promotes originality and allows people to be themselves, without feeling the need to defend themselves in front of colleagues. 

As the manager, you must be straightforward with this person and explain your perception of the problem. Base your speech on facts, and make sure your message is conveyed clearly. To ensure that the stakeholder understands what you mean, it’s okay to simply double check by asking. Next, let them know the improvements and changes that you need to see for the situation to get better. Make your expectations known, and address their confusion such that there’s no doubt about it.

12. Consider All Available Options

Working to resolve issues with uncooperative people, a manager typically has multiple options. These options should be weighed carefully against one another to reflect on their individual pros and cons. Based on this evaluation, the manager should determine the most feasible way to proceed keeping the project’s best interests in mind. Sometimes, a decision may go against the emotional or personal inclinations of the manager, but the project’s success has priority over it all.


Having to behave patiently with people that you’ve always disliked isn’t easy. You will have to work through various personal differences to act in the best of your organization’s interests. However, remember that without having to face tricky instances like these, you’d find little to no opportunities for growth in your managerial abilities. A situation like this will not only make you a better manager at the end of it but possibly a better person too. You’ll practice tolerance while also developing some advanced conflict resolution skills.  All the best!