They are everywhere. You just cannot avoid them! No matter the job or environment, you will always meet them, so dealing with difficult employees is essential in order to achieve success.
This is a skill I personally had to learn. For many years when I had been dealing with difficult employees, I would think, “here we go again!” or “Why can’t they just do what they are told?”
A few years later and a little more educated and wiser, I learned to adopt (in the majority of cases) a different viewpoint to the situation. The truth is, most people don’t deliberately come to work to be a pain and fall out with other people. They don’t deliberately go out of their way to shun responsibility or not complete their tasks, or turn up late, or never get involved, and so on.
Normally, you will find that difficult people are only difficult because there is a reason for it. You may not be able to see it, but there is always a reason. Dealing with difficult employees means you must first understand that person’s trigger – what makes them well, rather difficult? Get to the root of this and you are now in a position to overcome the problem.
Triggers can come from a number of reasons, which can be (but not exclusive to):
The following are tips to help you in dealing with difficult employees and get to the root cause or trigger to their poor performance or behaviour:
Discuss the situation: Discuss the problem with the employee. It is important that you act swiftly and, as they say, nip it in the bud. Failing to do so will only manifest the problem even more and the danger is that the employee may become worse, dragging other members of the team down with them.
I know, most people do not like managing conflict, however, this is a key requisite of any leader and acting swiftly is the only way to keep control of the team and individuals.
Remain Calm: It is essential, that your demeanour is calm and collected and that you act on data and not opinions. Your main task is to find the problem, so ask open questions in an environment that isn’t threatening. If there is an allegation, go and research and get an understanding of what happened and so on. Most of all, be totally prepared for the discussion, using facts and events as a matter of course, and be firm.
Take the emotions out of the Discussion: Chances are, that if you are having a discussion about the very problem of the employee, he/she may become heated. One of the primary rules is to take emotions out of the discussion. How do you do this? Act on data and be specific with times and events, don’t debate people’s opinions of them and use ‘I’ more than ‘you’. E.G. I require my team to start on time, rather than “you are late all the time”; or “I need my team to adopt these new skills because”, rather than “you must do this because.”
Be clear as to your intentions: Often people become fiery and obstinate because of a failing elsewhere by management. On too many occasions, this failure normally stems from poor communication. Typical issues can come from:
When dealing with difficult employees, one of the key requirements is to gain rapport with employees and the only real way to do that is to gain respect and trust. The only way to do this is to be open and honest, whereby communication is critical. Why not spend time to have five minute daily start up meetings and weekly overviews, giving the team a chance to talk, learn, debate and ask questions. Regular one to one reviews is also critical, giving individuals a further chance to ask for guidance and clarification, but to also gauge key information.
This can also be the case during your discussion with the employee – Your remit is not to confront but to work with the employee to remove the barrier that is affecting you both. Be honest and open in your discussion and try to lead the employee to a resolution, whilst explaining what your intentions are. If people see honesty they then start becoming more trustworthy of you and your rapport builds.
Summarise points – Often what we have said, and our interpretation of it is totally different to what a recipient has understood it to be. Summarising points of discussion is critical in order to understand that both parties are on the same hymn sheet, so to speak.
You have to create a clear improvement plan. There is nothing worse than having a crisis meeting and to feel that the discussion went well, but you got the sense that nothing will be done about it. Once you have got to the bottom of the reason why the person is behaving the way they are, focus on clear actions and timescales to resolve this. Try to get a sense of balance, IE, you are both working on a few actions to overcome this hurdle, in order to lead the individual down the right path.
When all else fails, escalate to your manager. This must be considered as the last resort, but if all your actions have failed and the employee is still not willing to meet in the middle, then something has to be done to resolve this. Often, an escalation to your line manager may be a simple solution, as in this instance, you get support, disciplinary advice and also that your line manager may discuss the problem directly with the individual.
Sometimes, the only way to get someone moving is through the top-down approach. Be careful not to exercise this option all the time as you wouldn’t want your manager to think that you are incapable of handling your own problems.
In situations where you are embarking on a change project and in a last resort, it may be worth removing the individual from that process or area where you are implementing change, and moving them elsewhere, where they will not have such a negative effect.
Any decision must be made with advice and thought out thoroughly as the effects of poor decisions may be tenfold.
Dealing with difficult employees needs time, patience and resilience. You may feel that you are constantly beating your head against a wall, but refrain from being a defeatist and resist the questions of “why me?” or “why can’t he just do as I say?”
Humans are dynamic creatures. You must understand why they are resisting your requests. Take a little time to work out the trigger, and then endeavour to try to remove that issue.
During the process, look at typical models to help understand the situation, like:
Be patient, direct, think about the dynamics of humans and try to act on data!