Dealing With Difficult Employees At Work
For many managers and business owners, dealing with a team of employees every day can have its challenges.
Some employees can be extremely valuable in one way, but very difficult to deal with socially – either because they have a poor understanding of workplace customs and social dynamics, a cultural mismatch, or some other reason.
We might mentally categorise an employee as ‘difficult’ for a number of reasons. Perhaps they might be incredibly stubborn, drawn to creating interpersonal drama, overly sensitive, sarcastic, or possess some other character trait that makes them hard to get along with.
Today, we’ll look at some pointers for staying in control of the situation and getting the best from your interactions with a difficult employee.
Deal with things directly
Or, phrased differently: don’t gossip.
If you’re finding one employee difficult to work with, don’t talk about them behind their back to their coworkers. All this will accomplish is that your other employees will lose respect and find it difficult to trust you.
Instead, address the problem head-on. Invite the difficult employee to a private meeting and have a civil discussion with them in person about how you feel. In some cases, their poor behaviour may be due to a misunderstanding of your expectations – or maybe their behaviour is actually caused by a different problem that the two of you can solve together.
It can also be a good idea to shut down gossip about team members from their peers. If two or more employees are complaining amongst themselves about a problematic colleague, encourage them to keep things professional and to come to you with any concerns they may have about the team dynamic.
Don’t get dragged into arguments
More often than not, heated arguments are gigantic wastes of time that go on and on because neither party has the good sense to drop it.
Sometimes this is a matter of pride, of not wanting to be seen ‘losing the battle’ – but often the issue under debate isn’t actually worth the energy and emotions spent contesting it.
The avoidance of arguments might be seen by some as a sign of weakness, but in reality, being wise enough to not get drawn into squabbles and name-calling is a hallmark of strength and character.
Arguing is a two-way street – you can’t have a screaming match with somebody who insists on calmly stating facts and not letting their emotions get out of control.
There’s an oft-quoted Chinese proverb that if you don’t control your emotions, they will control you – and a good manager should always know when it’s not worth getting worked up over something that can be resolved in a straightforward manner.
Keep things positive
Sometimes, a difficult team member might be somebody who persists in always seeing everything from a negative point of view.
Some people are just pessimistic by nature, but if left unchecked this attitude can poison the outlook of the entire team. It’s hard for your employees to feel invested in a project that seems doomed to failure; productivity and creativity are often dependent on an optimistic worldview.
It’s also important to make sure you’re managing your own mood as well as possible, and don’t allow one naysayer on the team to eat away at your confidence in the company. Try to recognise incessant negativity for what it is – the outlook of an unhappy person who just loves to complain.
If it really bothers you, you can speak to the employee and explain that you will need them to put aside their opinions and get on board with the rest of the team in order for you to be able to work well with them.
However, be careful not to dismiss all negative talk as pointless complaining. Sometimes a smart employee can spot a real problem and bring it to your attention – and it’s your responsibility to exercise good judgement as to whether their comments represent a constructive discussion of a genuine issue or just fruitless griping.
Focus on solutions
As a manager or business owner, the responsibility is on you to keep track of the big-picture stuff – and often the employees ‘in the trenches’ won’t have that perspective.
If you’ve got a complainer on your staff, you might find it useful to instigate a policy of only listening to problems that are presented with possible solutions. Not only does it stop people from bothering you with trivial problems, but it empowers them to put forward their own ideas for your consideration. And a problem that is still brought to you even though they couldn’t think of a solution is probably a serious one that requires managerial thought.
In other words, anybody who wants to complain about something had better turn up with some ideas. Your business isn’t the place to foster pointless negativity, so unless the employee in question is obviously concerned about improving matters, their complaints can otherwise be disregarded entirely.
In the end, learning how to get the best from each of your team members and equipping them to work well together is a key managerial skill, and by mastering this ability you can make sure that each of your employees lives in happy, productive harmony with one another.