9 Ways on How to Manage Difficult Employees

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Every manager eventually comes across an employee that’s tough to deal with, negative, and who has to be coached. What one may consider a ‘difficult employee’ likely has a reason for being the way they are. They may be dealing with a difficult situation at home or there may be another issue of some kind that needs to be addressed. Don’t let yourself be held hostage by employees who aren’t cooperating.

As a manager, here’s how you manage difficult or problematic employee dynamics. Below are nine effective techniques for managing difficult employees:

1. Give feedback

Don’t just sit there and complain about a difficult employee. Let them know, in a polite and constructive way, there’s a problem. The best way on how to manage difficult employees is to provide direct feedback on their behaviour, advising them on how they’re expected to change.

This can be tricky as anyone is going to be on the defensive when they hear stuff like this. For this reason, one must be careful with how they word what they say and ensure they’re approaching the situation in a way where it comes across as conversation rather than confrontation.

2. Take action

Don’t dismiss someone’s behaviour or write it off as, ‘That’s just the way they are.’ A manager should take action, address what’s going on, and manage the workforce in a proactive manner. When they fail to, it will only continue and continue to affect others on your team. As bad as you may or may not think the situation to be now, it’s only going to get worse.

3. Record the behaviours

Write down the key points of someone’s bad behaviour and document it. When you have a record to go off of, this makes your argument more convincing when you’re speaking to them and/or others about them.

Documentation of negative behaviours isn’t a bad thing. It does not necessarily need to be filed officially in any way. As a manager, you may want to keep a desk record of difficult behaviours in the workplace as an example. This all helps to back up any treatment, consequences, or decision you may make about them.

4. Take the time to listen

A bad manager only sees a difficult employee as someone who’s costing them productivity and/or someone who’s an irritant. A great manager sees human-to-human that something’s going on. If you don’t understand the dynamics of why a person is behaving the way they are, it’s impossible to resolve it. Sit down one-on-one and listen to the employee. There may be a legitimate issue unaddressed you can help with or at least, better understand the ‘why’.

5. Force some positivity

Let’s say someone has a negative attitude and/or is behaving in a difficult manner, ask them about the positives of an interaction, a person, or a situation. Even if there’s a problem, tell them you want to hear something positive or constructive. It may not seem helpful but if you can get them to focus on some of the good, you may find yourself slowly moving towards a solution to their difficult behaviour.

6. The employee’s the solution

The most effective leadership on difficult employees is to make them a part of the solution. Sit down with the difficult employee and let them know you’re interested in hearing their thoughts. Ask them if they have concerns. Let them know you’ve noticed a change in their behaviour.

Advise them you didn’t want conflict with other employees and that you want to speak directly to them. If there’s a problem, the employee may suggest a solution or participate in finding a solution.

7. Consequences

If behaviour does not comply, set consequences. If things don’t change or improve, outline the course of action you’ll follow. If difficult employees understand there’s going to be a negative impact on them for their behaviour, said employees can be more motivated to change. Otherwise, if something’s working for them and they’re not getting punished, they may not be so quick to change.

8. Be consistent

For every employee, you need to give the same treatment and have the same rules. What’s not OK with one shouldn’t be OK with another. Employees look to see what you do – they’re less concerned with what you say. Set standards that you hold everyone to.

For example, if you say submit a report by a certain time and if they don’t, be consistent in your reaction. If you’re sometimes upset and sometimes not upset, what you say means even less. Consistency will reinforce how you’re perceived and makes standards clearly communicated.

9. Give them the opportunity to change

Every employee has value, even a bad one. Depending on what the behaviour is, if it’s minor, give them the chance to improve and make a change. Allow a person to make a comeback. After all your effort, if things still don’t modify, cut them loose but at least you gave them opportunity to choose their own result. Just ensure you have a conversation with your HR representative about the path to termination should you deem this to be so.

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