4 steps to dealing with difficult employees

by Lauren Acurantes03 Nov 2016
Every office has at least one employee that’s proving difficult to manage. But more than just being unable to connect with the rest of the employees, difficult people also “drag down productivity [and] slow innovation”.

Leadership researchers and O.C. Tanner Institute’s executive vice-president and director of institute content, David Sturt and Todd Nordstrom, said there are four steps managers can take in order to build a respectful relationship with difficult employees.

Stop and ask why
“People aren’t difficult by default – though it can certainly seem that way when you’re managing them,” they wrote at Forbes.

They may seem difficult to manage now, but ask yourself if they were equally difficult to manage in the beginning. You might be surprised at the realisations that you come up with, they said.

Engage them in an open conversation to see if there has been a change in their status that’s causing their attitude. 

“Instead of getting frustrated, open the floor for candid discussion,” they said.

Build trust
This is critical, the authors wrote, because if they don’t trust you, they will challenge you at every level. Every decision you make will be questioned and you will have a hard time convincing them of your intentions.

“Give them the benefit of the doubt and trust them first,” they said. 

Live up to the promises that you made and do what you said you’ll do in order to build on that trust, they added.

Deliver positive feedback
Don’t fight the fire with fire. Instead, they advised “delivering positive feedback in the form of appreciation”.  

“Look specifically at areas where your difficult team member is trying to improve and recognise them in front of the team,” they said.

Appreciating them vocally and often will make them feel important to the team; that their contributions to the work is valid, said Sturt and Nordstrom.

Show them respect
“The bottom line on respect? It’s reciprocal,” they said.

Shift your perspective, they added, and don’t think of that person as being “impossible to work with”. 

“Think of them as an integral part of the team—maybe the only person on your team that’s willing to challenge every idea, every procedure, and every project,” they said.

Doing so will change the way you look at them, how you speak to them, and how well you listen to them.

Related stories:

How to resolve conflicts in a ‘toxic’ workplace

How perfection can lead to a toxic work culture

Can young managers command respect?

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