Join Todd Dewett for an in-depth discussion in this video Realizing the rules of positive conflict, part of Managing Teams.
Wouldn't life be great if everyone was nice, in a good mood at work, and always easy to deal with? Of course. But we all know that sometimes people can be very difficult to work with. The bad news is that many workplaces have too many of these employees, which hurts morale and productivity. The good news is that it doesn't have to be that way because you have it in your power to manage difficult employees effectively. Let's start with the basics. What exactly is a difficult employee? I'm not referring to a person you simply dislike.
Two people can dislike each other, for a variety of reasons, even when both people are good people. It's also important to note that all good people have bad days. That just makes us human. Displaying difficult or unacceptable behavior on a very rare basis, doesn't make someone a problem employee. The problem is when these behaviors become common instead of rare. Here's a good definition. A difficult employee is a person who is consistently rude, demeans others, negatively personalizes issues, is insensitive to the challenges others face, often refuses to help others, is disrespectful and, in general, is not well liked. Believe it or not, most of these folks are meaningfully unaware of their negative status.
They typically don't have any intention to be unpleasant or cause you to be unproductive. It's just who they are, and they are in serious need of feedback from you, the boss, in order to change their behaviors. For a moment let's consider why they even exist at work. No one likes someone who is difficult. So why do we see so many of them? Two reasons. First, many bosses are blinded by talent. Strong talent is valuable. But you can't allow it to blind you to negative interpersonal skills that some people bring to the team. Second, in general, people love to avoid conflict.
So, even if they're not blinded by talent, they choose not to engage a needed but difficult conversation. Here's a truth I really want you to remember. No amount of amazing performance justifies consistent negative behaviors from any employee. Feel free to write this one down because it is really that important. No amount of amazing performance can justify consistent negative behavior from anyone. Here's why. When you choose not to deal with a difficult employee in the office, lots of bad things happen.
Consider these unpleasant outcomes. First, they get worse. If they do not experience negative consequences, they will feel emboldened and typically escalate their negative behaviors. Next, they can multiply. If turns out that bad behavior can be contagious. One difficult employee at work, unchecked, can quickly turn into several. Challenging employees like these can't be validated since they hurt morale and productivity.
Just because someone does not become a difficult employee in response to other difficult employees, they will still be distracted and experience negative emotions, which limits their output. Last, but certainly not least, if left unchecked, a difficult employee will damage your reputation. If you're the boss, you could expect others to lose respect for you. No matter how good the person is at their job, if you allow them to continue behaving negatively, others will start to think you are difficult too.
So now I know you're ready to proactively manage these types of employees. Consider these four progressive steps to gain control of the situation. First, provide private feedback. Play on this encounter carefully before you do it. You want to state your view of their difficult status at work, while being particularly careful to check your emotions. Steer clear of generalities. List as many specific examples as possible. Clarify expectations moving forward and be explicit about potential consequences.
At this stage, you will be wise to seek the advice of the appropriate human resources representative. Your next option for escalation, if needed, is to change the person's role. For most problem employees, the steps we've already listed will be enough. You can go further, however, and change the actual nature of their job. The goal here is to limit their interactions and mitigate the damage they can cause. It requires some thoughtful effort, but it could reposition them for success. Finally the last possibility is to remove them from the company.
You never start by thinking about firing someone. You begin by making reasonable investments to try and help them improve. Only after taking these actions should you consider removing them from the company. This is a difficult last resort but sometimes it's far wiser then continuing to invest in the person. Having created a solid paper trail and consulted with Human Resources, you should be in a safe position to make this move when needed. Nobody wants to work with a difficult employee. Fewer still want to be in charge of one. However, when you're the boss, it's your job.
Follow the steps we've just discussed and address the matter in a straightforward manner. Your team will thank you.
- Building initial rapport
- Signaling fairness and integrity
- Communicating proactively
- Facilitating efficient meetings
- Using your authority effectively