IREM Blogs

5 Tips for Managing Conflict and Difficult People

May 14, 2018 | Helen Shacklett

If you’ve ever managed residential properties, you know that handling conflict and interacting with difficult people is an expected part of the job—whether it’s between board members who can’t agree on a decision, residents who are fighting a board decision or employees who are struggling to get along. But however it happens to you, ignoring problems like these only allows the resentment to build at best or for the situation to spin out of control at worst. That means when we’re faced with difficult people and the conflict that often comes with them, it’s our responsibility to take a proactive approach and resolve the issue so that business can go back to normal.

Ways of Approaching Conflict

It’s important to note that people use a variety of tactics to approach—but just because a conflict is being handled or even goes away doesn’t mean it has been resolved, or resolved successfully. Knowing the ways people can approach a disagreement will help you choose the best tactics for resolving conflict.

  • Direct Aggression—A person approaching conflict this way views the situation in black and white terms and has an attitude that says, “Every conflict has a winner and a loser. I intend to be the winner.”
  • Collaborative—This approach says, “Let’s work it out.” People with this stance proactively want to resolve the issue, are ready to work together and are open to a variety of possible solutions.
  • Compromising—Another successful style, this approach is focused on each party giving something up to gain something.
  • Accommodating—When a person conveys that they’re willing to give up a lot to end a conflict, they’re displaying an accommodating approach. However, this can lead to the conflict recurring or unfair treatment of the accommodating party. •
  • Avoiding—Sometimes we decide that something just isn’t worth fighting about, so we ignore the issue, which can be a good or bad decision. It’s wise to choose battles, but it’s unwise to allow problems to grow just to avoid the discomfort of acknowledging them.
  • If you can identify how the people in a given conflict are approaching it, you have additional information and context about the situation that can help you manage the resolution successfully.

    Tips for Resolving Conflict and Handling Difficult People

    1. Be Proactive—Don't ignore something that bothers you or is bothering your clients or employees. Confront the issue before the situation becomes intolerable. This can mean handling the situation in the moment when it arises, asking the parties to talk to you after they’ve cooled down, or both. In the case of a difficult person, being proactive means simply asking them if everything is all right if they seem unhappy, which can allow you to handle a potential conflict before it escalates.

    2. Listen and Stay Calm—The most important step for resolving conflict and for handling difficult people are the same: listen. Oftentimes difficult people simply don’t feel heard, and people that are butting heads often feel the same way toward each other. Remind the parties (or yourself) to take deep breaths and remain calm, even in an emotionally charged situation.

    3. Encourage the people involved to share their perspective—Allow each person to explain the problem from their point of view without any interruptions in a calm, fact-based way. In the case of a misunderstanding or a situation where you can provide a simple solution, this is all that’s needed.

    4. Discuss possible solutions—This is where you have to rely on your own judgment about how to handle the situation. With a client, you can offer possible solutions (or agree on a time when you will get back to them with solutions if you need to speak to other team members or leaders) and convey how important this problem is to you. With employees, you can encourage them to brainstorm their own solutions, and of course, call on your HR department to serve as an objective third party. In either case, it’s always wise to document the conflict so that there’s no dispute over what people did or said.

    5. Be empathetic—Try to see others’ point of view and understand their frustration. If you see the conflict or difficult person as an annoyance for you to handle during your already-busy day, it will be seen and heard in your body language and tone of voice, which will only build contempt among the people you’re trying to help. Remember that you’re all on the same team.

    Conflicts and difficult people are inevitable, especially when managing community associations or properties. But by increasing our understanding of both, we can turn negative situations into positive outcomes for our clients, our employees and our businesses.


    15 May 2018 | Amir Khalatbari
    Dealing with 'tenants from hell' is the worst part of the property management business for me. I almost quit a few times over this issue. Nutjobs keep calling or coming by the office over and over relentlessly. They gossip with other residents and create a 'conspiracy mob'. I've had to tell people to 'get out of here and quit harassing me!' Managers need reasonable time to come up with proper solutions to various issues. Work orders get completed in the order they are received so, calling repeatedly for status won't make maintenance work faster. Hopefully IREM training will help me become a more professional manager when the pressure is on.
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