Difficult employees

How to deal with difficult employees

I came across this great infographic the other day and it got me thinking about the steps to deal with difficult employees.

There are a few things that I’ve learned over time when issues crop up around communication and difficult people in the workplace:

  1. It’s often not isolated to one person or one issue;
  2. Band-aid solutions, or worse, “hoping it will go away,” are used more often than not and rarely solve the problem, and
  3. In most cases, the problem can be resolved.

Here are 9 steps to take when you’re dealing with  difficult employees (From wrike.com’s infographic with a Padraig spin):

1. Get to the root cause (the key person)

This can be tough but often when an issue surfaces in the organization, the person who initiated it isn’t necessarily the person that is vocal about it or creating the turbulence.

Ask some team members who you are usually open and forthcoming with, to shed some light and figure where the discussion/issue/problem starts.

2. Maintain your distance

It’s easy to get caught up in the drama or to even contribute to the negativity. Do your best to stay objective and solutions focused. You have an opportunity to lead by example and keep your cool. You’ll earn respect AND have a better chance of truly solving the issue.

3. Be a fly on the wall

It can be tempting to jump in and referee a situation but sometimes you can learn a lot by sitting back and observing what is actually unfolding. How are frustrations being expressed? Is there any resolution happening on its own? Write down your observations and brainstorm solutions for each area of drama.

4. Get to the root cause (the key issue)

Now that you know who is involved and have made some observations about how they act out – see if you can figure out exactly what it is that is bothering them. How are they seeing the world? What is it that’s bothering them that perhaps isn’t an obvious problem to you or others?

5. Solicit input

Of course, you don’t want to contribute to gossip or speculation but if you’re able to subtly get a sense of the issue from other perspectives – mentors, peers, other members of the team, it can be helpful. Do your best to see the issue from as many angles as possible.

6. Decide if you need to take action

Sometimes the difficulty is circumstantial or fleeting and there are instances where issues unravel on their own. Perhaps even the disruptor is helping in the long term?  If you decide you do need to take action – double check that you’re the right person to address the issue and then think through how you want to start this essential conversation.

7. Talk to the difficult person

I called this step “talk to the difficult person,” but this step is ALLLL about listening. Without making assumptions, talk to the person and really hear their perspective. Check out this article on how important silence is in conversations.

8. Collaborate

There is an opportunity to work together to resolve the issue. If the other person understands your concerns, brainstorm solutions together and get their buy-in to solve the issue. Remember to show your willingness to work together.

9. Check in regularly

Change may not happen overnight and it may take multiple check-ins to encourage a change in behavior. Continue to show your support and to take the steps you agreed to take on your end.

Coach’s Questions:

Which “problem employee” are you tiptoeing around, or hoping they’ll change their ways? Given the suggestions above, what can you do this week, to start to improve the situation? How can you avoid escalation of issues with difficult team members?



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