Hollywood's Most Powerful Women Share Their Secrets for Working With Difficult People

Octavia Spencer Shonda Rhimes, Issa Rae and Marti Noxon_Split - Getty - H 2018
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From "pretending to take a very important call" (Lena Dunham) to following a strict "no assholes" policy (Shonda Rhimes, Oprah Winfrey, Marti Noxon), entertainment's top female leaders share their tricks to working with just about anyone.

Every workplace has its impossible people: the Miranda Priestlys with their unreasonable standards and incessant coffee requests; the incompetent slackers who are constantly behind deadline and passing their work onto others; the under-caffeinated and overworked who are so busy juggling 10 tasks at once, they often pay little mind to office niceties. 

This year, members of The Hollywood Reporter's Power 100 — the top creators, stars, producers and execs in entertainment — weighed in on how they deal with difficult people. In most cases, it's all about listening but, as Sharp Objects showrunner Marti Noxon puts it, sometimes you've just got to run away.

Here's how Hollywood's most successful women stop challenging co-workers from breaking their stride.

“Listen. Invariably, when people are being difficult, it really is not about you. It’s really about them and the pain that they are in. I was taught that you have two ears and one mouth for a reason.” — Lisa Borders, CEO, Time's Up

“I listen. I try to uncover the core of what their real concern, fear, issue or underlying passion is that’s driving their behavior. If all that fails, I try to remember they were someone’s kid once.” — Lisa Nishimura, vp original documentary and comedy programming, Netflix

“To not work with them. I believe I’ve adopted Shonda Rhimes’ “no assholes” policy.” — Oprah Winfrey, CEO, Oprah Winfrey Network

“Focus on what you can control…and try and laugh a little...levity has great powers.” — Nancy Dubuc, CEO, Vice

“It’s that I love them. I love artists, I love their psychology. Difficult people are interesting that’s why people make movies about them.” — Kristine Belson, president, Sony Pictures Animation

“Straight up honesty. When you call someone out it usually gets their attention.” — Amy Entelis, executive vp talent and content development, CNN Worldwide

“Patience and Wine.” — Linda Yaccarino, chairman, advertising sales, NBCUniversal

“Daycare. I worked in daycare in college. The same rules apply. Snack, nap, hug, and an occasional time out.” — Andrea Miloro, co-president, Fox Animation

“Benign interpretation — you never know what other people are dealing with in their lives.” — Hannah Minghella, president, TriStar Pictures

“Never let the crazy in.” — Dawn Olmstead, president, Universal Cable Productions and Wilshire Studios

“My secret is to remind myself that I fit into this category. Other than Tom Hanks and Sherry Lansing, I can't think of someone who isn't eventually called difficult.” — Terry Press, president, CBS Films

“My secret to working with difficult people is not to take any of it personally. Sometimes I also close my eyes and imagine firing them.” — Susan Rovner, executive vp development, Warner Bros. TV

“Empathy, and a firm belief in Karma.” — Stacey Sher, co-president, Activision Blizzard Studios

“Honesty could sound counter-intuitive, but it usually works with highly intelligent, prickly individuals who don’t suffer fools or BS. “ — Sharon Tal Yguado, head of genre, TV, Amazon Studios

“Being a pain in the ass is usually a front or a distraction for when you don’t have the goods.  Or you’re just a miserable fuck, in which case, you should work alone and not inflict yourself on others. But also, difficult is relative — I love when people are difficult if it’s about the work.” — Jenji Kohan, showrunner, Orange Is the New Black

“Avoid the ones that literally everyone says are nightmares. I know that's not always possible. But that's my advice. Run away.” — Marti Noxon, showrunner, Sharp Objects

“Pretending they’re characters in a book. I just always pretend they’re somebody in a Jane Austen novel.” — Amy Pascal, producer, Venom, The Girl in the Spider’s Web and The Post.

“There is only one way: I tell them they have a reputation for being difficult and I ask them if they plan to continue being difficult because I don’t work that way.  Most people are mortified. It’s amazing how many difficult people do not know people consider them difficult.  No one wants to be that person.” — Shonda Rhimes, producer, Shondaland

“They are all God’s sweet babies and I imagine them crying out for love and hugs. Also, pretending to take an important call.” — Lena Dunham, actor, producer

“Finding the passion together and working from that positive place of passion. But I have to say I find very few people difficult. I think it’s an overused word.” — Nicole Kidman, actor, producer

“I just don't have a tolerance for bad attitudes and I love getting along with people, so I will find ways to sit down with them, talk to them, and even mediate issues. I'm also very much a "you don't have to be here" and "we don't have to work together" person — so if talking it out doesn't work and my crew or my cast is miserable, they gotta go and life will go on ... peacefully.” — Issa Rae, actor, producer

“A difficult person could taint a work environment if allowed to. If it's my environment, I don't tolerate it.” — Octavia Spencer, actress

“Oftentimes I think difficult is a tricky word – just because somebody's not my cup of tea doesn't mean they're not somebody else's.” — Lena Waithe, actor, writer, producer

“(How do you define "difficult"?) Focus on the work itself, and the greater good. I think people—even difficult people—respond to a higher purpose/goal. ” — Dawn Hudson, CEO, Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

“I make them repeat themselves and repeat themselves and repeat themselves.” — Maha Dakhil, motion picture agent, CAA

“Winning them over. After all, it is said, one gets more bees with honey than with vinegar.” — Hylda Queally, motion picture talent agent, CAA

“In the words of Michelle, when they go low…” — Christie Smith, partner, Rise Management

“Humor. A little gossip and humor.” — Toni Howard, partner, ICM Partners

“DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY! I try to understand their point of view or where they are coming from in order to deal with them with respect and compassion. When that fails, I go punch something, hence boxing every morning!” — Jessica Lacy, partner, head of independent and international film, ICM Partners

“Keep calm and carry on.” — Deborah Klein, talent attorney

“Not to treat them like they are difficult.” — Jeanne Newman, talent attorney

“A little tequila and a lot of meditation.” — Blair Kohan, board member, motion picture literary agent, UTA

“Raising three children.” — Michelle Bohan, partner, WME