Handling Difficult Interactions

What Are Difficult Interactions?

You’re arguing with a peer about why he consistently shoots down your ideas. Two of your employees routinely attack each other verbally during meetings. Your boss often makes sarcastic remarks to you and other managers. Another business area keeps making unreasonable demands on your team.

These scenarios constitute difficult interactions. If we don’t deal with them, they may escalate to highly undesirable outcomes—strained relationships, wasted time, and declining performance.


Do You Avoid Dealing with Difficult Interactions?

You might avoid dealing with difficult interactions because certain barriers get in the way. The table below shows examples of these barriers and explains how to remove them so that you can more effectively manage difficult interactions.



Ways to Remove

Fear of interpersonal conflict Acknowledge that although conflict can be uncomfortable, it’s a fact of life. Focus on the positive outcomes of addressing conflict.
Failure to recognize that you have a problem with another person in the workplace Notice the quality of your workplace relationships. Ask which relationships seem tense, frustrating, or unproductive. Consider acknowledging that these relationships are hampered by difficult interactions.
The belief that a difficult interaction is the fault of others Acknowledge your role in the difficulty. Identify what you can do to improve the situation.
The conviction that other people won’t change even if you try to improve the situation Remind yourself that you’re not trying to change another person—rather, you want to alter the way the two of you interact. You can do that by changing your own behavior.
The belief that the problem will resolve itself Remind yourself that most problems don’t resolve themselves.

Despite the challenges inherent in dealing with difficult interactions, it’s essential to recognize situations that need addressing—and to manage them promptly and effectively. If you don’t, difficult interactions may escalate to a level that destroys workplace relationships and damages performance in your team or unit.

Improvement Is Possible

Managing difficult interactions requires hard work and practice. But you can master this important managerial responsibility. Though managing difficult interactions is challenging, the rewards are well worth the effort. When you learn how to deal with these situations:


  • Difficult conversations become easier to handle
  • You prevent these situations from escalating into crises
  • You engage in more productive dialogue
  • You feel greater freedom to take action in tough situations, as well as a stronger sense of self-respect
  • You strengthen your workplace relationships

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