Managing Difficult Work-place Relationships


Managing your work place relationships well makes a positive difference to your career and your image.  Not done particularly well – it will damage your career until you learn how to better relate to people more professionally.  I know. I’ve been there!

Arrogance and aggression are no-no’s in the workplace.  Learn to assert yourself to ensure your needs are met – personally and professionally, as you can’t separate the two completely – but do so helpfully and proactively.


What is a difficult professional relationship?

  • Someone who is arrogant or at least appears that way.  Often this is the ‘fight’ of the stress response – a bold front hiding strong self-doubt and low self-esteem perhaps.
  • A person often aggressive in meetings or when they don’t agree – again the ‘fight’ response rising over the ‘flight’ reaction to stress and fear
  • Someone who doesn’t listen to management or team views and continues to ‘do it their way’
  • People who always go against the norm, the crowd, the team or the organisation for the sake of it. Why?
  • Stressed people struggling to stay afloat, keep their head above the water with workload pressures, home-life demands and personal capacity to cope with it all, alone
  • Bullied people who find someone in the team or organisation doesn’t like them and perhaps they don’t know why, or they at least don’t understand the behaviour towards them.

The questions to ask

Why?  Why is that person the way they are?

Have they changed? How and when?

What has or may have happened that might have affected them negatively? What is going on in the organisation?

Who do they have a problem with?

What is that particular problem?

Managers should be asking their team members these questions, exploring the problems with their staff members in supervision and appraisals.  NOT joining in with the negative, unhelpful behaviours others might be showing, or ignoring the problem for everyone and anyone, or taking sides.

A manager’s priority is team work, individual supervision and support/development, and organisational accountability up the ladder to the top!

Ways to be assertive

  • When you disagree with someone, phrases such as “..I tend to disagree..” are better than “that’s rubbish!” or “I don’t agree at all!”  and then explain why you don’t agree with the idea, the suggested action or the person’s perspective, whatever it is you see differently.
  • Talk with people outside meetings, in a friendly, relaxed situation like the kitchen over lunch, or formally in agreed mutually convenient meetings to discuss your opposing views and perspectives and see if you can co-operate at least, and help each other’s needs be met on the project.
  • Ask what they need, share what you need – compromise if you can but aim for a win-win for each person and and the company
  • Share your views clearly and concisely, and follow up in writing, adding evidence to support your viewpoint if you can – to all involved in the meeting or project, not just key people.  Don’t leave out your protagonist in particular because they don’t yet see your perspective – even if you may never agree.

Needs might include:

  • Personal values
  • Time managing home and work life commitments
  • Skills lack or knowledge missing
  • Confidence and belief in the process under discussion – and more.