This week we’re talking about a topic that was suggested by several of you: “How to Deal with Difficult People.”

You know – the difficult ones, the grumpy guy, the trolls, the “NO man,” the toxic-types… 

You can skim this short email or click the links to learn more.

Let’s do this…

The Podcast: “How to deal with DIFFICULT PEOPLE

Once again, we are fortunate to have Human Resources expert Tamara Finlay join us for this week’s podcast episode.  (In a previous episode, Tamara helped us decipher the pros and cons of using various communication media: phone vs. email vs. IRL, etc.).

Tamara Finlay
HR expert Tamara Finlay

Two of the meta-themes that Tamara shared about how to deal with difficult people:

  1. We are all working hard these days and sometimes we need to give each other a break.  Things are changing rapidly, and it’s stressful.
  2. Yes, there should boundaries between work and personal life, but getting to know your colleagues helps.  When the going gets tough, personal relationships matter the most.  Your co-workers are going to choose to help you as a person, not just because of the job.

Great points!negative people at work around a table

Amongst other things you will learn in this podcast about how to deal with negative people:


  • Do NOT ignore it!
  • Do NOT go to your boss or to HR unless:
    1. you’ve observed the behavior with your own eyes; 
    2. you haven’t been successful in resolving it on your own; and
    3. it’s escalated in terms of impact.
  • Do NOT gossip or talk to others about it unnecessarily. Do not compromise people’s privacy. Feedback and sensitive discussions should be in private.

If it’s your PEER:

  • Get out of the office and talk with your colleague on a more personal level.  Go out for coffee or lunch or go for a walk.  As Tamara says, once when you know someone more on a personal level, it’s amazing how much better you can work together. 

If it’s your SUBORDINATE:

  •  Same as above, plus you can talk about the firm’s resources, expectations and values.

If it’s your BOSS:

  • Ask yourself two questions:  
    1. Does this person’s values and behavior reflect those of the organization?  If yes, then you probably need to get out.  If no, then things usually have a way of sorting themselves out.  
    2. Are you learning things from working for this person? Try focusing on that in the meantime.

This last piece of advice (two Qs to ask yourself if your boss is a difficult person) came from my DAD many years ago.  Thanks Dad!  (Yes, his advice worked perfectly!)  And thanks again, Tamara, for your incredibly helpful insights.  I hope you will come back for a future Talk About Talk episode!

Andrea & Tamara

Andrea & Tamara

Using HATS & SCARVES to deal with Negative People 

The Six Thinking HATS Model

Edward de Bono introduced the Six Thinking Hats model as a way of describing various perspectives:
  • Red is focused on emotions
  • Black is pessimism (limitations, constraints)
  • Yellow is optimism (confident, hopeful)
  • Green is focused on possibilities (creativity)
  • Blue is focused on organizing
  • White is focused on information
Three ways to use this model when you have to deal with difficult people:
  1. Highlight that we need all of these perspectives (hats) to be most productive – including the black hat!
  2. Ask everyone in the room to adopt a particular hat for some period of time, then another one.
  3. Try assigning different hats to different people to ensure all perspectives are included.
Six Thinking Hats by Edward de Bono

The SCARF Model

  • The SCARF Model was introduced by neuroscientist Dr. David Rock in 2008.
  • S.C.A.R.F. is an acronym. When people believe that any of these are under threat, it can adversely affect behavior:
    • Status – dignity, prominence
    • Certainty – predictability
    • Autonomy – independence
    • Relatedness – connection with other people
    • Fairness – treated justly and equitably
  • You can use this list to try to diagnose what might be going on when someone, including ourselvesis negative or difficult.
Your Brain at Work - David Rock



I hope you enjoy this week’s podcast, “Communicating with NEGATIVE PEOPLE.” 

Please know that although this is by-definition a NEGATIVE topic, this podcast is not a downer!  Tamara and I shared lots of laughs.  If you ever have to deal with negative people at work or elsewhere, then this podcast will provide you with the tools and frameworks you need to deal with the situation with confidence!  

One last thought:

When EVERYONE around me is difficult,
then chances are it’s ME. 

It’s true. I’m not grumpy very often, but from now on when I am, I’ll pull out the S.C.A.R.F model and figure out what’s making me grumpy… THANKS TAMARA!

In the meantime, I hope you’re thriving in the “end-of-year crunch” – including (amongst so many other things) giving great gifts and saying thank you!  One of the greatest gifts I’ve received in 2019 is all the feedback and suggestions you’ve provided me.  Please keep it coming!

Please email me or connect on social media to let me know what you think of the podcast – or even just to say HI !

And please encourage your friends to sign up for this weekly email newsletter.


TALK soon,

Dr. Andrea Wojnicki
Chief Talker & Communication Coach – Talk About Talk Inc.

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