Issues Leaders and Managers: Workplace Violence and Dealing with Difficult People


Workplace Violence and Dealing with difficult people are two major issues for leaders/managers. This assignment is to discuss these two issues by contextualizing advanced knowledge and understanding of leadership and management to the two issues. A literature review of each issue will be conducted along with a critical analysis which identified two strategies to deal with each workplace issue.

Critical evaluation of the literature

This critical analysis will identify the main strategies found in the literature to identify the leader or manager's role in dealing with Workplace Violence and Dealing with difficult customers.

Workplace violence

Abuse and violence in the workplace is on the rise. The literature clearly indicates the presence of workplace violence in the healthcare setting. Up to 80% of nurses are experiencing physical or verbal assault and 64 % of nurses feel that violence is an expected part of the profession. According to Segen's Medical Dictionary Workplace violence is “Any act of violence that occurs in a work environment, which may be committed by one worker against another, by outsiders, or by former employees”. Boyle, & Wallis describe workplace violence in the context of nursing as bullying, threatening, assault, harassment of a sexual nature, and abuse of a sexual nature. McKenna, L., & Boyle, M. agree with these descriptions further including intimidation as a form of violence. Whilst workplace violence can be described with many adjectives it is predominantly classified as one of two types, physical or verbal. Sun, et al completed a study which found that 15% of healthcare workers were exposed to physical violence in the workplace, and 69% of participants were exposed to non-physical violence which is a serious issue. These episodes of workplace violence have serious ramifications on leaders/managers; psychologically, emotionally, physically, and financially. With such serious ramifications, this issue must be addressed.

Dealing with difficult people

Managing difficult people is a major component of any managers/leader's role. According to Phillips and difficult people can be colleagues, bullies, customers or visitors with each requiring different responses and approaches in dealing with their issues. Van Jaarsveld, D., Restubog, S., Walker, D., & Amarnani, R. highlight a potential reason for people acting in a difficult manner to be ‘‘the customer is always right’’ strategy where managers/leaders are placed in a power imbalance situation. Lilley disagrees stating this is not always correct as customers don’t constantly get it right, they exaggerate and sometimes lie to get what they want. Organizations can sometimes neglect to see the actuality of customers treating leaders/managers in an inappropriate manner and as a result, negative impacts can occur for staff which is a major issue. The research shows that stress is a major issue for staff when dealing with difficult people.

Critical analysis- strategies to address workplace issues

Workplace violence

The two main strategies found in the literature for dealing with Workplace Violence were the leader/managers role in encouraging the reporting of workplace violence incidence and dealing with the workplace violence incident through the use of a crisis management plan.

Ahmad, Al-Rima wi, Masadeh, & Atoum and Hogarth, Beattie, & Morphet identify ‘reporting’ as a strategy for reducing workplace violence. ‘This strategy is arguably the gold standard for addressing workplace violence. Copeland & Henry supports this stating that underreporting can contribute to further acts of workplace violence. Whilst reporting acts of workplace violence is clearly a very valuable strategy it is designed to address the issue after the violence has occurred. Only through speaking out against workplace violence can it be identified and provisions of support for staff members be rendered. Reporting workplace violence can significantly reduce the occurrence of further incidents. The next strategy commonly identified in the literature for dealing with workplace violence is the implementation of a crisis plan. Gates, Gillespie, Smith, Rode, Kowalenko, & Smith and Samuel, Griffin, White, & Fitzpatrick identify the implementation of crisis management plans as an imperative strategy to successfully deal with workplace violence as it occurs. These crisis management plans can be used to aid the leaders/managers by providing clear step-by-step instructions to deal with a workplace violence situation as it transpires. The experts agree that a clear operational response plan needs to be developed for managers or leaders to follow for any crisis situation.

Dealing with difficult people

The two main strategies found in the literature for dealing with difficult people were the leader/manager's role in communication and the modelling process.

Managers are at the frontline indirectly dealing with disgruntled patients and families. From the literature it is clear that communication is the number one strategy identified for dealing with these difficult clients. Ferrara, Davis- De-escalation techniques such as verbal and non-verbal communication can also be employed in an effort to maintain safety. Arnold, & Boggs and Spielfogel, & McMillen agree with this recommendation further identifying body language as non-verbal communication along with verbal communication as key components of de-escalation. Conversely some evidence shows that in these times it is best to remain silent. Silence is an underrated form of communication which can say many things that verbal communication cannot. Hallett agrees with this statement and further elaborates by identifying that silence can be used as a tool to show you have time for the person, thus de-escalating the situation. Weather verbal or non-verbal communication is arguably the most effective strategy for dealing with difficult people. Leaders/managers are also responsible for dealing with difficult staff. From the research, a commonly used strategy for dealing with difficult staff behaviors is the modeling method. Bakker, Rodríguez-Muñoz, & Sanz Vergel do not agree with this strategy as they believe that an individual’s own attitude toward work engagement influences their behavior. As a leader or manager the main responsibility is to model the appropriate work behaviours and encourage the individual to change their attitudes toward work by engaging in an appropriate way.


Workplace violence

In Nursing workplace violence is underreported, managers and leaders should be the main instigators for encouraging the reporting of incidence. With such a high percentage of nurses being affected ‘reporting’ as a strategy is arguably the gold standard for addressing workplace violence. Copeland & Henry completed a study involving 147 participants from the emergency department nurses surrounding the reporting of workplace violence. This study found that some of the top perceived reasons for not reporting have been; the inconvenience of compiling a report, staff members justifying that no one was hurt, and the feeling that nothing is done to follow up the report. If workplace violence towards nurse is not reported the same violence will continue to occur without being dealt with. After being reported a thoroughly set out, well-rehearsed plan of action needs to be implemented in order to successfully and safely deal with a workplace violence situation. If there is a lack of understand, education or regular practice of for this plan a result may be that staff members are in an unsafe environment or situation that could potentially place them in harm’s way.

Dealing with difficult people

Communicating with difficult people can cause extreme levels of stress. These communication can leave the leader/manager feeling overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted. Some leader disengaging and becoming increasingly ineffectual in the role. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and anxiety are some long-term effects from exposure which can result in a higher staff turnover. Ajami, Warren, & Murphy recommend de-escalation communication training as a strategy for dealing with difficult patients. In nursing communications such as conflict resolution and behaviour management training can be utilised by leader or managers to deal with patients with difficult behaviors. When dealing with difficult staff members it is important for leaders/managers to deal with inappropriate staff behavior before they become normalized. The normalization of inappropriate work behaviors can result in the continuation of inappropriate behavior with the perception of its occurrence as appropriate for everyday application. Mikaelian, & Stanley, highlight the efficacy of leader/managers modelling appropriate work behaviour by providing a clear demonstration of the expected behaviour for the nurse to follow and emulate.


Workplace violence and dealing with difficult people are commonly dealt with issues amongst leaders and managers. This assignment has discussed the two topics in relation to leadership and management. A literature review was provided along with a critical analysis for each of the two workplace issues. From this research it is clear that organizations need to provide further support to leaders/managers to deal with such high stress job demands.

29 April 2022
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