Difficult People

by Suzanne Neville

Behavioural styles

Understanding how behavioural styles differ can enable you to get a feel for how other people’s behaviour patterns differ from yours, and how you can vary your communication to manage perceived difficult behaviour more easily. This model highlights differences in pace and focus.


  • Consider and analyse facts and data
  • Pay attention to detail
  • Reflect before taking action
  • Are patient and systematic
  • Are less influenced by deadlines
  • Want to take additional time to think things through
  • Are interested in processes as well as detail and data
  • Like to be systematic
  • Tend to be perfectionists
  • Withdraw under pressure.


  • Initiate action
  • Act before analysing
  • Multi-task
  • Are competitive
  • Are results focused
  • Are deadline driven
  • Get it done rather than get it right
  • Are more interested in data and facts than processes
  • Want to control others
  • Give little thought to people’s views and feelings
  • Are autocratic under pressure.


  • Are sociable
  • Put priority on relationships
  • Are patient
  • Are low risk
  • Want to take time to get people’s opinions
  • Lose sight of achieving the task in their preoccupation with people’s feelings
  • Are not keen on risk
  • Acquiesce under pressure.


  • See the big picture
  • Enjoy relationships and recognition
  • Seek opinions and ideas
  • Are impatient
  • Are keen to get it done
  • Will take opinions and ideas into account if time permits 
  • Are stimulated by novelty/newness
  • Are abusive under pressure.

Consider the following questions:

  1. Where do you fit on this behavioural model?
  2. Where do your colleagues fit?
  3. Where does your ‘difficult person’ fit?

We need to be different

On the whole, we are naturally drawn towards people who are like us and who share our behavioural style; equally, it is often all too easy to be irritated – or worse – by people whose style is radically different. However, a truly effective and efficient team is one that accepts people of all styles and recognises that each individual has a valid contribution to make to the whole.

Communicating with the different styles

Using the grid can help us to see how our behavioural style might help or hinder our ability to communicate effectively with others. For example,

  • The naturally driving, results-orientated behaviour of a commander may come across as harsh or even bullying to a collaborator
  • The attention to detail and perfectionist tendencies of a checker may be perceived as nit picking by a communicator
  • The sociability and harmony-seeking behaviour of a collaborator may be seen as time wasting by a commander
  • The focus on relationships and new ideas of a communicator may be seen as superficial by a checker.


Communication strengths

They are agreeable, cooperative team players, sensitive to other people’s feelings, and communicate well on a one-to-one basis and in small groups.

Possible communication weaknesses

They may get quiet and withdrawn during conflicts; their feelings may get hurt by how you talk to them; they may resist or avoid change – their motto is ‘If it ain’t broke don’t fix it.’

Strategies for communicating with collaborators

  • Help them feel safe and secure.
  • Prepare them for change with details and clear goals.
  • Give ongoing positive feedback.
  • Appreciate their skills and contributions.
  • Be courteous and respectful. Stay calm.
  • Encourage them to express their feelings.


Communication strengths

They are logical and analytical and they ask many questions. They organise tasks and projects so that these are done well.

Possible communication weaknesses

Checkers may be critical of themselves and others. They may have trouble making decisions because research bogs them down, and they tend to avoid dealing with people’s feelings. Their motto is, ‘If you can’t do it right, don’t do it at all.

Strategies for communicating with checkers

  • Focus on quality results.
  • Reassure them that a new approach will not lower quality or standards.
  • Research your facts and statements before you talk to them.
  • Use logical reasoning and data to support your conclusions.
  • Explain that feelings are also important in getting quality results.
  • Don’t talk down to them. Recognise their expertise and analytical skills.
  • Never challenge their expertise.
  • Help them set realistic expectations so they can be efficient.


Communication strengths

They are friendly, talkative, outgoing and people-orientated. They persuade other people to work together and start new projects.

Possible communication weaknesses

They may be too concerned with feelings and therefore fail to deal with business. Sometimes, they have trouble managing time because they are so busy talking. They have difficulty separating work issues from personal ones. They will avoid dealing with conflict because they don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. Their motto is, ‘Let’s relax and have fun’.

Strategies for communicating with communicators

  • Help them get organised.
  • Appeal to their need to be accepted and liked.
  • Avoid personal criticism or threats.
  • Include them in decision-making.
  • Help them include facts as well as feelings in their decision making.
  • Start conversations in a friendly manner.
  • Have a system for resolving conflicts.
  • Be friendly.
  • Don’t ignore them.
  • Provide opportunities for them to use their people skills.


Communication strengths

They are fast moving and will keep a group aimed in the right direction. They see new ideas and can get things done fast.

Possible communication weaknesses

Commanders tend to be forceful, telling people what to do. They may become impatient with lots of detail and questions, and can override other people’s ideas and feelings. They may appear unfriendly. Their motto is, ‘Just do it this way.’

Strategies for communicating with commanders

  • Focus on the need for quick results.
  • Avoid arguing or telling them they are wrong.
  • Provide choices or options instead of telling them what to do.
  • Do detailed research.
  • Help them consider people’s feelings and become more patient and supportive.