How to Deal with Conflict and Cranky People

Let’s face it - some people’s mood swings can gnaw at your
sanity. Crankiness is infectious. It can spread through an office
as silently and pervasively as a virus. You will do anything to
escape the cranky person’s subtle harassment and frequent
emotional outbursts. Another’s foul moods can become your
liability, draining the joy out of your job. These unhappy
individuals can deteriorate group morale, lower productivity,
and scare away clients.

As a keynote speaker one of my most popular speaking topics is I Love My Job, it's the People I Can't Stand.

Unbelievably, many prickly people have no idea of their toxic
attitudes. Their outbursts help them get what they want and it's come to the point where they don’t even realize they are doing it. As psychologists suggest, knowing is half the battle
because you can’t change what you don’t know and you can’t see.

I did a conflict management workshop where one leader got into a huge fight with one his employees in front of everyone. After shouting for five minutes, he still couldn't figure out why he needed to take this seminar.

How do you help cranky people to ‘fess up to their mood
swings? Can you hold up a mirror so they can see the villain inside? The reason difficult people are difficult is we let them get away with it.

Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones,
But Names Will Never Hurt Me

Remember that nobody can ruin your day unless you give him or her permission. Self development begins at home. Only you, ultimately, control the way you respond to situations and people. This is very powerful.  You are the only one who determines your mood and your responses. The next time someone loses it and tries to take it out on you, before you get upset or take on the blame, remember that you have a choice.

Do you let this person upset you or not? Most things
don’t warrant your attention. If you work with someone who habitually flies off the handle, you will have to learn to fight back, without the fight.


• Diffuse hostility by relating to the other’s point of view.

• Anger is not productive and the sooner you can calm the culprit down the better. Use statements like, “I can
appreciate what you’re saying” or “I’ve felt that way,
too” or “That’s what I’ve thought for awhile” or “While
that may be true…” Once you’ve calmed the other
person down, you can discuss the situation on a more
reasonable level. If you can win them over, they will start
to see you as an ally and trust your opinion. This is
how you can gain the power to influence their future behaviour.

•Stay calm. Going straight for the throat is the worst
thing you can do because people tend to mimic your
behavior. If you get angry, they get angrier, the anger escalates, and you have just helped to fuel their behavior. When under
fire in such a situation, use deep breathing, positive
affirmations (e.g. “I will remain calm,“ or ”I can handle
this”), or focus on the resolution.

• Back out gracefully. We are all human. If someone is on
the attack and you’re not in the mood or a position to defend yourself,
try diffusing the attacker and back out gracefully. “I can
see you are upset, and we need to discuss this, but now
is not the time. Let’s talk about it later.” It is far better to come back to that person after a time out, when you are
both better able to discuss the situation.

• Use good body language. In situations of conflict, body
language betrays your frustration and anger. Indicate
you are listening by making eye contact, nodding,
smiling, leaning forward, and paraphrasing what you
hear. One of the best leadership skills is great body language.

• Verbally move the “complaint” along. Some people
need to complain, so let them. Most people will get it out
and move on while others may see this as an opportunity to
drag someone else through the mud. The best way to
stop the complaints is to move it along. “OK, yes,
alright… I hear you...” Once you get the gist of
the argument, quickly reiterate their concern and move
onto the solution. You don’t have to be a victim of others’
complaining you are trying to find resolution. Motivating people to stay positive takes time.

• Listen for words and emotions. When people are
emotionally charged, they color their words with their
attitudes. It is important to stay focused. What are they
getting at and what does this mean to you? It helps to be straightforward and ask, “What are you trying to tell
me?” Try to understand their basic needs and respond
to them. Your responses may not solve their deeper
life issues but they will set a positive tone in your

• Be solutions-oriented and not problem-focused. Leadership Experts agree behavior that gets recognized gets repeated, good or bad. If you
spend too much time wallowing in the problem it may
just grow. Understand the situationand sum up the problem, then
immediately focus on the solution.

• Use the “How can I help?” approach. “You seemed
annoyed and withdrawn at the meeting when we really
needed your input. What’s wrong? How can I help?”
Most frustrated employees really want to talk about the
situation so they can move on.

• Never blame. When someone is upset, placing the
blame back on him or her is dangerous. They are not in
a position to recognize their faults. Avoid phrases such
as: “You should have, you didn’t, you can’t…”
These accusatory statements will only put others on the defensive and no resolution will be reached.


1. Diffuse the anger by relating to the problem. “I notice
you seemed irritated by my patient and I can
understand. Sometimes she is hard to deal with.”
2. Talk about what you saw. “I saw you get really upset
with Ms. Jones because she wouldn’t take her
3. Ask for what you want. “The next time this happens, can
you just politely explain why the medication is important
and assist her in taking it?”
4. Wait for agreement.
5. Sit down if possible when delivering criticism. Arguments
tend to escalate when people are standing.

Imagine this. A frustrated employee tries to provoke a
co-worker. It works; he’s mad, but instead of flaring up as usual, he stops and realizes he’s angry, reflects on the reason and responds with an honest expression of his emotion. He says, “I want to understand what you’re saying and I’m feeling frustrated that we can’t come to terms with this. I don’t dislike your idea; I’m just finding it hard to concentrate because we are both so emotionally charged.” There is nothing more
disarming than an honest and clear expression of emotion.
Honesty disarms crankiness.

Humor in the workplace, used appropriately will inspire people to decrease tension and stay positive.