The one-sentence summary

By understanding the research behind emotional responses, it is possible to build empathy and resilience to make relationships with awful colleagues more productive.

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  • To resolve a conflict, first decide if it is hot or cold. Hot conflict is when one or more parties are highly emotional – usually speaking loudly, shouting, being physically aggressive or threatening. Cold conflict is when people seem to be suppressing emotions such as muttering under their breath, pursing their lips, being physically withdrawn, remaining silent or being passive-aggressive. Don’t rush to act, determine your goal and focus on it, avoid finger-pointing or being self-righteous, listen to everything and respond selectively.
  • To take the stress out of stressful conversations, stick to three elements: clarity, neutrality, and temperance. Use plain language, keep the tone calm, and use temperate, non-emotional phrasing. Disarm people by restating your intentions, and fight tactics, not people.
  • Realistic optimism is powerful. It means telling yourself the most helpful and empowering version of a situation and asking how you would act at your best. View things through a long lens for better perspective.
  • To deal with a mean colleague, understand that most people act aggressively because they feel threatened, ask yourself whether you are being oversensitive, and call out inappropriate behaviour the moment it happens. Don’t take the blame or suffer unnecessarily.
  • To deal with a passive-aggressive colleague, don’t overreact, consider what’s motivating their behaviour, own your part in the situation, focus on the content, not the delivery, acknowledge the underlying issue, watch your language, and try to find safety in numbers to set guidelines for everyone. In extreme situations, get help and protect yourself. Do not lose your cool or assume you can change your colleague’s behaviour.
  • To work with someone who is always stressed out, don’t judge, acknowledge the stress, offer praise and assistance, break down your requests, and don’t get sucked in – get some distance.
  • To manage someone who thinks everything is urgent, help them recognise their impact on others, encourage them to identify all the consequences of their actions, pair them with long-term thinkers, and coach them to separate urgency from what actually needs to be done.


  • This book will help anyone encountering tricky circumstances at work.


  • This is a pithy and helpful handbook.