Managing Difficult Situations

Managers have to deal with difficult situations from time to time. Your team will be looking to you to resolve issues so they can continue to be productive.

In our Introduction to Management course we share practical, tangible tools and strategies to help you manage these situations.


Be observant

Keep track of difficult situations that arise. It is important to note the subject, how it happened, the parties involved, and how it was resolved. Repeat this with a view to identifying trends and patterns. This helps you spot potentially tricky situations before they become difficult to manage. If similar incidents occur three times, then treat them as significant and worthy of further investigation. By investigating the root causes of these incidents, you can make proactive decisions to avoid further re-occurrences.

Recognise that your own perceptions can make situations difficult to handle. Notice what assumptions you hold in relation to the situation, see if there are alternatives that are both valid and more useful. Note your responses, check if they are useful. Try alternative responses that may prove more helpful and ask for feedback.

Process your emotions without letting them take over. Sometimes the best way to deal with our emotions is to acknowledge them, experience them, and then let them pass. Asking for time to “think things through” enables us to take the time needed to feel the emotions and then return to address the central issue when we feel calmer and have had time to explore alternatives.



Have a strategy

The ‘Interest Based Relational Approach’ is one strategy to deal with team conflict. The method states that conflicts should be resolved by separating people and their emotions from the problem. It focuses on building mutual respect and understanding. In doing so, it encourages conflict resolution to be found in a united and cooperative way – these are the steps:

  1. Set the scene

    Make sure people understand that there may be a mutual problem better solved through negotiation and discussion.

  2. Gather information

    Get your facts right, this means gathering information and asking for people’s viewpoint. You should clarify other’s feelings, respect them, and use empathetic listening skills.

  3. Agree on the problems

    Make sure everyone understands what the issue is really about.

  4. Brainstorm solutions

    Include all in the discussion and ask for input from those that are involved, ensure it is fair and balanced ensuring everyone feels included and heard.

  5. Negotiate a solution

    If you haven’t already found a solution before you reach this step, then find a way forward. It is important to collect input from all involved, for example looking for a win-win solution.



An assertive approach is always helpful – what is assertiveness? Put simply, to be assertive you need to firstly show respect to yourself. This means you need to have a strong sense of yourself and your value. Then you can say or do what you need to. Finally, show the same amount of respect to the other person. Do that and you cannot fail to be assertive.


Final thoughts

Make sure your team relationships take priority, good long term relationships are absolutely critical, treat others with respect. Keep the people and the problem separate – focus on the issue not the person. Finally and importantly, listen first and talk second and never ignore these difficult moments!