by Cheryl Shepherd

Handling difficult situationsWhether it is an irate customer, an unhappy employee or a member of staff who is not being a productive member of the team, we are dealing with difficult situations all the time.

Our first instinct can be to deal with it face on, responding to the situation in a more aggressive manner.  Or, you may find it easier to try and ignore it – it may just be a little blip and it will sort itself out.

Imagine a situation where a member of your team is regularly late for work, with no explanation.  Other colleagues have begun to talk about it and it is starting to cause an issue within the team.  What would be your first reaction?

Would it be…

Option 1: Tell the individual that this is completely inappropriate and unfair on the rest of their team. Remind them of the contractual working hours and inform them that the team is not happy with their laziness.


Option 2: Tell the rest of the team that you are sure the individual will get back into a routine of normal working hours, that you don’t want to upset anyone and that you haven’t got time to sort this out. You may even let it slip casually into conversation with the individual that it would be good if they could keep an eye on the time.

Neither work for the effectiveness of the team, individual or organisation.  We spend so much time being busy in getting the job done that we lose the ability to handle the people outside of our management role.  We also seem to forget that it is the people who get the job done that keep our organisation going, so maybe we need to spend a bit more time working with these people to get the best out of our team.

So how do we do this?

Let’s look at our previous situation with our individual who is a serial late starter in the morning.  The two responses suggested above (option 1 & option 2) look at dealing with the situation based on the knowledge of how the manager is feeling.  It doesn’t look at the individual who is late.

Option number 1 was an aggressive approach to the situation and Option number 2 was a submissive response to the issue.  What about an assertive approach?

The assertive approach is about clear communication; openly expressing your thoughts, opinions, feelings, beliefs and wants to others, and standing firm when necessary.

In order to get a ‘WIN’ for you without hurting others, you also need to identify, understand and value the thoughts, opinions, feelings, beliefs and wants of others in the team.

Here are some tips for handing difficult situations assertively:

  1. Make sure it is an appropriate time and place to deal with the issue
  2. Check your attitude to the person and their situation
  3. Keep a clear picture of the person and yourself separate from the issue
  4. Tackle the problem not the person
  5. Be clear and specific about your perception of the difficult situation and of your desired outcome
  6. Work towards a WIN outcome, whilst recognising the rights and interests of the other party
  7. Take one issue at a time
  8. Make clear “I” statements
  9. Acknowledge and appreciate the other person
  10. Listen to the person and check they have heard and understood you correctly
  11. Check your understanding by summarising regularly
  12. Take full responsibility for all your comments
  13. Be creative and generate options to sort out the difficult situation

With these points of the assertive approach to difficult situations, how would you now respond to the late employee?

If you found these top tips useful, then we have incorporated further support and tips as part of our Essential Management Skills workshop and our ILM Level 3 Award programme.  To book your place on these programmes, please visit the links below:


Essential Management Skills

We work with new and up and coming managers to help equip, motivate and inspire them in the areas of managing their time, managing difficult situations, motivating others, team development and communication skills.

ILM Level 3 Award in Leadership and Management

This programme is a unique way of extending the learning to have not just an ILM Level 3 award, but also have 12 months membership to the Institute of Leadership and Management site, giving additional tools to extend their learning beyond the workshop.