Dealing with Difficult People in your Compliance Career



When you work in compliance, you’ll encounter a broad range of people ranging from your own colleagues to external regulators. Most of them will be courteous and cooperative, but in this type of work, conflict can arise when people don’t see eye to eye.

If you’re new to compliance, here’s a guide on what you can expect, along with strategies for dealing with difficult people you might meet in your career.

Compliance Stakeholders

The people you encounter will fit into one of these categories:

  • Regulators: Government officials or agencies responsible for enforcing regulations.
  • Colleagues: The people you work with, including those in legal, finance, operations, and management.
  • Managers/Executives: Leaders within your organisation who may set compliance policies and expectations.
  • Employees: Those working in various departments who must adhere to compliance policies.
  • Legal Professionals:  In-house counsel or external lawyers who may provide legal advice on compliance matters.
  • Auditors: Professionals responsible for assessing and evaluating compliance programmes.
  • Third-Party Vendors/Suppliers: External entities that your organisation does business with.
  • Non-Compliant Individuals: People within or outside your organisation who resist or intentionally violate compliance policies.

Common Causes of Conflict

Conflict can arise in any career and compliance is no exception. Common sources of disagreement include:

  • Interpretation of Regulations: Stakeholders might interpret complex regulations differently, causing disagreements on the best way forward.
  • Resource Allocation: Competing with other departments for budget and staff is often a form of tension.
  • Risk Tolerance: The appetite for risk in pursuit of business goals can impact compliance decisions.
  • Cultural Differences: Managing different cultural perspectives on compliance within multinational organisations can lead to conflicts.
  • Change Management: Employees who are accustomed to existing practices might resist new compliance policies.
  • Whistleblower Allegations: The sensitivity of whistleblower complaints can lead to conflicts between the whistleblower, management, and the compliance team.
  • Prioritisation of Compliance Efforts: Given limited resources, deciding which compliance initiatives to prioritise can cause difficulties.
  • Enforcement Actions: Deciding how to respond to a compliance breach may cause disagreements.
  • Ethical Dilemmas: Views on what constitutes ethical behaviour may differ, leading to conflicts over certain practices.
  • Third-Party Relationships: Disagreements can occur with vendors or partners regarding compliance expectations and responsibilities.
  • Regulatory Changes: Rapid changes in regulations or legal requirements may lead to conflicts over the ability to adapt quickly enough.
  • Compliance vs. Business Goals: Balancing compliance requirements with the organisation's broader business objectives can lead to conflicts over priorities.

Dealing with Difficult People

Any of these tensions can be exacerbated, so it’s vitally important to have a strategy to defuse any tension quickly and effectively.

Consider these strategies to stop the situation escalating when dealing with difficult people:

  • Stay Calm and Professional: Maintain a calm demeaner, even in challenging situations. Becoming confrontational or emotional doesn’t help anyone.
  • Listen Actively: Understand where someone else is coming from. You’ll get valuable insights into their motivations which helps you devise a potential solution.
  • Empathise: Walk in their shoes to understand their perspective. This is a great way to defuse tension and find common ground.
  • Communicate Clearly: Be clear and concise about what you expect. This will also help you communicate the importance of compliance.
  • Set Boundaries: Be clear about the consequences of non-compliance, for the individual and the organization.
  • Document Everything: It always helps to keep records of any interactions. Keep a trail of emails, meetings, and any corrective actions.
  • Seek Guidance: You’re not alone. If the situation persists, your manager, HR, or legal team on how best to handle it are there if you need them. Remember too, that each situation is different, so adapt your approach to specific circumstances and personalities.


Conflict at work is inevitable and dealing with difficult people in your compliance career is an important and necessary skill. By staying calm, considering all viewpoints, and communicating clearly, you should be able to manage any flashpoints without alienating your colleagues, partners, or regulators.


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