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Guidelines for Dealing with Difficult People

Tips on understanding difficult staff (and patrons!)

Put problem people in the proper perspective.


o They are worried about themselves.
o Break free from their control.
Take your pick – positive or negative.
o Let go of negative feelings.
o Decide on desired result.
Don’t expect difficult people to change.
o Plan ahead, prepare yourself.
o Change the outcome by changing YOU.
Learn to respond as well as to listen.
o State how you feel.
o Ask questions, don’t make accusations.
Give and request frequent feedback.
o Ask to find out how others feel.
o Link objectives to another’s wants
Look at policies and procedures first.
o Keeps discussion professional.
o Gives everyone a sense of control.
Deal directly and discreetly.
o Talk in person whenever possible.
o Do not have an audience.
Document for self-protection.
o Put verbal agreements in writing.
o Keep superiors informed regularly – no surprises.
Be straightforward and unemotional.
o Remain calm.
o Respect from others begins with self-respect.
Be gracious.
o Disarm offenders, make friends with enemies.
o Give recognition to others.

(adapted from: Working With Difficult People, rev. ed., by Muriel Solomon. Prentice Hall, 2002.)

Survival Skills for the First Time Supervisor Spring 2003 - This material has been created by Monique le Conge for the Infopeople
Project [http://infopeople.org/], supported by the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services under the provisions of the Library
Services and Technology Act, administered in California by the State Librarian. Any use of this material should credit the author and
funding source.