Seven types of difficult people

Some teachers deal with it spectacularly well, while others get exasperated at dealing with difficult colleagues. Whatever your situation, at some stage in your teaching career you will come across colleagues who are hard to deal with. Nearly 40% of all helpline calls relating to people skills were specifically around relationship problems with colleagues, according to the Teacher Support Network.

The national charity identifies seven difficult ‘types’ and provides tactics for dealing with them.

Nice people
It may be surprising to add those with a ready smile to the list but nice people find it hard to say no and can end up taking too much on. As a result they often end up failing to deliver. The best way to deal with nice people:

  • show that you like them;
  • engage on a personal level;
  • listen carefully; and
  • help them to be realistic about the task in hand.

They often feel they are superior to other people, claim to know more about anything than anyone else and are often poor listeners. The best thing you can do with this kind of person is:

  • prepare yourself with the facts;
  • state your position and invite discussion; and
  • aim to work together

The disgruntled often feel powerless to do anything about the myriad things that irk them and are especially vulnerable to change.  Here’s what to do:

  • take them seriously: listen carefully and summarise what’s been said; and then
  • ask for solutions, to encourage positive engagement.

Characterised by delay and indecision, such colleagues may be particularly sensitive to external opinion and employ stalling tactics or be inarticulate. How to cope with procrastinators:

  • make communication easy;
  • instil confidence
  • allow time; and
  • work with them towards a solution

Bullying can take many forms from overt hostility to the subtle undermining of a colleague’s abilities. All forms are an attempt to assert dominance; and may be physically threatening. How to cope with bullies:

  • be cogent and confident but not aggressive;
  • allow time for aggression to dissipate; and
  • maintain eye contact.

In some cases, you will need to contact your school, Teacher Support Network or your union.

Constant pessimism may be a sign of depression or just an unfortunate personality trait!

  • accept pessimism while projecting optimism;
  • discuss potential problems to pre-empt negative comment; and
  • be prepared to take action on your own.

It may be useful to point out the positive side of things as well as the negative, and to try to nip problems in the bud to prevent cynicism.

Quiet ones
They avoid confrontation at all costs and withdraw communication in difficult situations. best ways to handle quiet people:

  • ask open questions and allow time for answers;
  • engage actively and sympathetically; and
  • keep communicating yourself.

(Source: Teacher Support Network)

Occasionally, things can get beyond your control and you can contact the Teacher support helpline:
08000 562 561 (England)
0800 564 2270 (Scotland)
08000 855 088 (Wales)

TSN: a lifeline for Hannah
Hannah, in her 40s, had just taken on a new headship at a primary school due to the post holder’s retirement. However, the retired head decided to stay on at the school in a different position on a part-time basis. This led to endless problems as the previous headteacher disagreed with some of the changes that Hannah introduced. The ex-head also had the loyalty of the staff team who sided with her against Hannah.
“I decided to contact the Teacher Support Network as I had reached the end of my tether and really needed some advice on how to handle the situation,” she says. A phone call to the helpline with a trained coach helped Hannah to get in touch with her feelings and work towards a positive solution.

“We explored several options and the best one was to approach the deputy head who was someone I felt I could talk to,” explains Hannah. “It was such a relief to hear that he had similar problems with the former headteacher and that I wasn’t the only one. He advised me to implement my ideas is slow stages, one step at a time.” This worked well and Hannah felt that this was the ideal solution to her problem.

Further information:
Communicating with staff
Conflict in the workplace
Bullied at work?: here’s what to do
Essential tips for dealing with staff disagreement in schools

Need more advice? Visit the Teachers’ survival guide