(Successfully) Dealing with Difficult People on a Grant Team

As grant professionals, we all encounter a sticky situation, an argument, or a difficult colleague at some point in high-performing grant teams. For example, an accountant might demand something unallowable in a grant application, or someone might want to control the entire project without any prior grant experience. It is so important to work collaboratively with the team, but frustrating to deal with certain people.

During the Grant Professional’s Association (GPA) 2018 annual conference, I attended a session called “Snarks, Sharks and Drama Queens: How to Navigate People-Generated Obstacles to Grant Success” presented by Bruce Ripley. Mr. Ripley is a former addiction counselor turned grant professional, so it was interesting to hear his perspectives about working with difficult people. He had plenty of experience, and the grant professionals in the room each had various conflicts occurring in their work lives. Here are some tips and resources from Mr. Ripley.

ODDD stands for Oppressed, Demented, Disrespected, and De-energized (Sutton, R., 2017). If you and others feel all four of these when dealing with someone, you may be working with a truly difficult person instead of a situationally difficult person. A situationally difficult person may have a troubled personal life or be addicted to certain behaviors or substances. A truly difficult person may have poor boundaries, extreme personality aspects, and change their mind abruptly and often.

Since you can’t change others, change yourself by asking the following three questions. “How much am I truly suffering? What vibe am I giving? What is it like to be them?” Perhaps that difficult person is experiencing stress due to the organization’s cultural norms, dysfunction, or may be worried you will take their job away. Truly listen to the person and see if you can pick up repetitive themes or phrases. Are you automatically taking a defensive tone every time you speak with an irritating person, and don’t realize it?

As a grant professional, detach emotionally from the person. Observe the person like a scientist instead of drowning in their toxicity.

If the person is angry, focus on what they say instead of the yelling. Don’t raise your own voice—exist on a higher level. Instead of arguing, ask questions or suggest solutions. People often move to anger when they feel no other options are available to them.

Lastly, here are some suggested resources from Mr. Ripley:

Altucher, James. How to deal with crappy people

Holiday, Ryan. Ego is the Enemy

Navarro, Joe. What Every BODY is Saying

Sutton, Robert. The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People who Treat You Like Dirt.

Thompson, George. Verbal Judo: The Gentle Art of Persuasion, Updated Edition

Voss, Chris. Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended On It


What methods and tricks have you tried when you have found yourself in a difficult situation in grant team facilitation?

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