Management Matters

How to Handle Difficult Employees

Date Posted: 10/28/2015

Difficult people do exist at work. They come in every form and no workplace is without them. Managers need to understand that a negative or difficult employee is not just a problem between them and the employee, they can be difficult with colleagues and customers alike. If conflict is not dealt with well, it can create strained relationships which grow to sap the time, energy and productivity of even the best teams.

But in reality, everybody is somebody’s difficult person. Identifying a difficult person is subjective. You may find aggressive people challenging while some may see passive negative people as more frustrating. Difficult people may not be aware of their behavior as it has been a habit or part of their everyday life. If you are managing a team and you have difficult people in it, then it’s your responsibility to deal with them. How difficult this person is for you to deal with depends on your self-esteem, self-confidence and professional approach. Although you will never deal with conflict perfectly, here are some guidelines worth considering when dealing with your most difficult employees:

Listen to the employee – Open a dialogue with the difficult employee in a private meeting to find out if they’re aware of their behavior. This may help you determine if there are external or personal factors affecting their behavior. A good manager knows his best shot at improving the situation lies in having the clearest possible understanding of the situation – including knowing the employee’s point of view.

Maintain self-control – When you are faced with a difficult or unreasonable employee, it is important to always maintain your composure. It helps to be less reactive and gives you time to think of your next move. Also, patience sometimes maybe all that is needed to defuse the situation. Rather than giving a quick response to the bad behavior of the employee, ask them how they are feeling as you want to make sure they are OK. This is unbelievably disarming as they will see that your aim is to be supportive and not threatening.

Don’t ignore the problem – Allowing difficult employees to always get their own way can create chaos and is bad for business. Their bad attitude or actions can affect other employees’ morale and productivity. You need to talk to the difficult person about the problem, before it gets out of hand. Make sure to think before you act.

Do your homework – Don’t rely on gossip or rumor but always act on facts. You should be the one to see and experience the inappropriate behavior of this difficult person and if you haven’t seen it yet then look into it. Collect all the facts before you act but do act promptly.

Talk to the person – Dealing with the difficult person directly may be uncomfortable and lead to confrontation but this can avoid mindreading and resentment that may occur later when problems are not dealt with directly and immediately. Make sure you choose the right time and place to discuss issues. No matter how difficult the person is, never trash talk them to other employees. Talking about them behind their backs creates distrust and pollutes others’ view of the person.

Deal with the issues, not the personalities – Do not attack the person in a personal way, avoid using “you” in a blaming way in your statements. A good manager knows how to separate the person from the issue, so be soft on the person and firm on the issue. People can have different views, priorities and values. If you personalize disagreements you invite escalation of the conflict. Focus on mutual problem solving and not personal attack.

Be a problem solver – Rather than putting weight on the negative or problem that arises from the situation or from the person, focus on how to solve it. Offer different solutions to solve the problem rather than getting stuck in providing a conviction for past mistakes. It’s not about who will win but rather about developing a solution.

Record – If the difficult person is part of your team, it is important to document and record the key points of the bad behavior. Putting everything on record can act as proof once you need to let go this employee. Good managers know that documentation isn’t negative but is imperative.

Implement corrective action – After you have talked to the employee and addressed the issue, you have to follow through. If the bad behavior persists, misconducts should be identified with corresponding disciplinary actions in the form of a verbal or written warning. With this approach, you are implementing standards and fairness to every employee.

Pick your battles – Not all difficult people need direct confrontation, so before acting think about the time and energy that you will save from unnecessary conflicts.

Be open-minded & use different approaches – People have different personalities and require different approaches. Observing them closely and knowing more about their behavior can help you adjust your approach when you communicate with them or take any actions to improve the situation.

Apart from these tips, it is also important to be mindful of possible psychological health issues. Persistent problematic behaviors often have deeper roots and are a challenge to understand.

In conclusion, knowing how to handle unreasonable and difficult employee is an art of communication for the manager. As you utilize these communication skills, you may experience less stress, greater confidence and better relationships with your employees. While it may be human nature to try to avoid conflicts and hope that the situation will resolve by itself, ignoring the bad behavior of a difficult employee can harm your business tremendously.

Hopefully, the above tips will give you the confidence you need to address these issues before they get out of control. I’m sure the rest of your employees will thank and respect you for it.

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