Quick Reference for Coping with Difficult People

Behavior Name

Typical Actions

Positive Intent

Basic Coping Strategy

Sherman Tanks

Pushy, abrupt, and even hostile. Attack until others move out of the way or accept their view of the world. Aggravated by too much discussion or friendly chat.

Get it done

  1. Hold your ground, but don't fight back.
  2. Interrupt the attack by repeating name.
  3. Restate the problem.
  4. State your own opinions forcefully.
  5. Be ready to be friendly.


Hide in crowds. Use jokes and sarcasm to sidetrack, humiliate, and embarrass people. May roll eyes to distract you. Can become tanks if exposed. Friendly snipers use humor to get attention from the group.

Get it done

Get appreciated

  1. Surface the attack immediately
  2. Ask about intent and relevancy.
  3. Seek group consensus of criticism.
  4. Solve the problem, if any exists.
  5. Resolve on-going problems in private.


Feel thwarted and threatened so they "act out" through tantrums. May storm out of the room or attack others verbally without explanation. May cry or look silently enraged.

Get appreciated

  1. Give them time to run down.
  2. Get their attention.
  3. Show that you take them seriously.
  4. Reduce intensity. Take a break.
  5. Identify and solve underlying problems.

Know-it-all Experts

Extremely confident in their abilities. Very accurate and thorough. Tend to ignore other opinions. Quick to criticize and pick at others. Don't like to be contradicted.

Get it done

  1. Be prepared and know your stuff.
  2. Listen and acknowledge respectfully.
  3. Present your views indirectly.
  4. Turn them into mentors.


Act like experts. Charismatic or enthusiastic talkers. Like to pontificate about subject in front of others, even though they are not really experts. Tend to be generalists in many fields.

Get appreciated

  1. Give them a little attention.
  2. Clarify for specifics.
  3. State facts or alternative opinions.
  4. Allow them to save face.
  5. Break the cycle.


Try to please everyone by doing what is asked while sometimes feeling put upon. Over-commit so much that they perform poorly. Use humor to reveal issues.

Get along

  1. Make it safe to be honest.
  2. Talk personally and honestly.
  3. Help them learn to plan realistically.
  4. Ensure commitment.
  5. Strengthen the relationship.


Avoid making decisions for fear of harming a personal relationship. Hint or beat around the bush to remain honest. Try to postpone decisions until they are not necessary.

Get along

  1. Establish a comfort zone.
  2. Surface the issues.
  3. Help them problem solve.
  4. Reassure, then ensure follow through.
  5. Strengthen the relationship.


Withdraw from others when frustrated. Stop talking although they appear angry. Wash hands of decision rather than try to influence it. Don't like to rush into action without understanding the background and the details of a project.

Get it right

  1. Be prepared to wait.
  2. Ask open-ended questions expectantly.
  3. Avoid filling quiet pauses with talk.
  4. Help break the tension.
  5. Guess.
  6. Show the future.


Feel hopeless to enact change. Destroy morale. React strongly to problem solving or process changes. Sound bitterer and more hopeless than complainers.

Get it right

  1. Avoid getting drawn in.
  2. Don't argue.
  3. Explore the problem before solutions.
  4. Describe the worst case situation.
  5. Use them as a resource.
  6. Wait for them, but be prepared to act.


Whine and speak in generalizations about problems. Focus on problems, not solutions. Believe someone else should fix the problem.

Get it right

  1. Listen for the main points
  2. Acknowledge, interrupt and get specific.
  3. Don't agree or apologize. State facts.
  4. Switch to problem solving.
  5. Draw the line. How should this end?

Compiled from "Dealing with People You Can't Stand" by Dr. Rick Brinkman and Dr. Rick Kirschner and "Coping with Difficult People" by Dr. Robert M. Bramson.

Copyright : http://www.userassistance.com/presentations/diff_qref.html

P.S: The way i see myself i am right in between an exploder and a know it all expert ;-)



Peppermint Patty said...

That's a nice one and very well compiled. Though I can't dsay where I fall. Sometimes people straddle between 2 zones - or alter styles to situations. Good one.