How to handle challenging people – have you ever come across a situation where you were not quite sure how to handle a challenging person or situation?

If you know how to cope with these situations and have a plan in placer then it not only helps to get out of thees situations with ease but also acts as a major confidence boost. For my clients it is often the most compelling skill in their confidence armoury.

Colleagues at work can have a myriad of reasons to be challenging but we believe that challenge means that they care and are at least motivated to be difficult. If you turn around this person by listening to their problems, then you will have a loyal member of staff.

Of course you may not be successful in all cases and occa­sionally you are left having to influence a member of your team directly to change their behaviour. The following script, called the DESC script, is perfect for providing feedback. It remains one of the most used skills in our coaching armoury.

What is the DESC Script?

DESCRIBE: Put into words the behaviour that is affecting you. Be clear and use any evidence that will support your argument.

EMOTION: Disclose how you feel, whether irritated, angry, enraged or unhappy.

SOLUTIONS: Discuss what can be done or you would like to be done to improve the situation.

CONSEQUENCES: Say what positive things might happen if changes are made and what might result if the behaviour is not improved.

People might never have been given feedback about their behav­iour and you may be the first to do so. Bullies and those who use aggressive behaviour can get away with it for a long time.

I have worked with some very difficult and challenging people. I have learned they do not plan to be obstructive. They do not waken each day and wonder who they can mess up or shout at. As often as not they have no idea how they come across and certainly no idea of how much power they wield. If only they knew it, just a whisper from them and most would rush to their bidding. They really do need the feedback.

Using the DESC Script


You must describe your difficult person’s behaviour to him or her, precisely, face to face. A client was referred recently with the words ‘This man needs a personality transplant’. Now how helpful is that? It certainly did not enable this person to change nor did it provide any concrete objectives. If you have any evidence of bad or inappropriate behaviour now is the time to produce it. Time sheets, if they have been late, reports of aggressive incidents – any feedback that that moves your dis­cussion on from hearsay and gossip. Remember, these people are very good at defending themselves and maintaining the status quo, so collect your ammunition well in advance.


You must remember to talk about how you feel. This is such powerful feedback, especially if you have been trying to effect change for a while. You may feel that it puts you in a vulnerable position to do so but, believe me, it does not. The majority of people do not wish to cause mayhem and upset so this leverage can inspire change.

A young woman on a training course talked about her sister who infuriated her. She would weekend in her at, have wild parties to which she was never invited, and then leave the detritus for her to clear up. In the past she would swing from silent martyrdom to having screaming arguments.

This time she used the DESC script and talked about how her sister’s behaviour made her feel: left out, exhausted and put upon, with an overwhelming desire never to invite her again. The sister was nonplussed, to say the least. She had thought her sister hated her friends and so had never thought to include her. They had never helped with the cleaning because it was always completed by the time they surfaced the next day.

Solutions were negotiated and certainly at the last contact, there had been a lasting peace.


If it is a work situation, you may want your member of staff to write down their negotiated solutions. A lot of the compliance work carried out with GPs would suggest that if they asked us to write down how to take our medication, there would be fewer half empty bottles on shelves and less persistent infection around. However, we can make use of this research and have paper and pen handy.


Many people have little idea about the consequences of their behaviour. Perhaps they were just given things as children, instead of earning them, or charmed their way constantly out of scrapes. You may be the rst person to talk about what will happen to them if they continue to behave in the same way. It would be very positive to point out the good consequences that would follow should their behaviour change in the desired direction.

The last essential is to provide a timescale for improvement and to monitor progress. If the seasoned dif cult person knows that nothing will be followed up then there will be no motiva­tion to change. It goes without saying that even the most minu­scule movement in the right direction should be rewarded. If no one notices, why bother! If the right changes are not forth­coming, then keep on targeting the individual till they do.

The Power of the DESC Script

The power of the DESC script lies in its directness. It is sharp, focused and you can remain relaxed as you communicate clearly how you feel. Why should your life be shortened by someone else’s stupid behaviour?

Returning to directness for a moment, so many people have mentioned over the years how they are going to give a certain member of staff a ‘flea in their ear’ or ‘a piece of their mind’ or some such colourful threat.

The reality is that when you meet that employee afterwards and ask how the interview went, they tell you that they discussed holidays and football but the man­ager talked vaguely about the work bit. In other words, giving bad news is never easy and we often try to sugar­coat it. This process so dilutes the interaction that the core message is lost. We may think we have had the conversation; the recipient has no clue about it. DESC allows you to be direct and stick to the point, no matter what. And it allows you to prepare in advance.

Want to learn more effective strategies for managing personnel? The JUST LEADERSHIP programme will enable fast trackers and existing leaders to reach the highest levels of leadership, inspiring them to achieve more than they ever thought possible.