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Dealing with Difficult Employees: Strategies to Keep You Sane During Insane Times


Do you ever feel like your employees are driving you insane? Join the club. One difficult employee can drive a sane manager to insanity. Here’s how to deal with difficult employees while keeping your sanity.

Take action. Hiding under the covers and praying your difficult employee will resign in the morning is not what I would call a strategy. In fact, in my experience, these employees far outlast their leaders. This means you will need to confront your problem employee. When doing so, resist the temptation to tell your employee he has a “bad attitude,” and instead, focus on their behavior. What specifically have you observed them doing that is creating toxicity in the workplace? Let them know how this behavior is impacting their work, as well as their future career opportunities with the organization.

Be direct. Confrontation can be difficult for many. If you’re in management, then you better get used to it. I’ve seen many a manager circle around issues, rather than zeroing in on the problem. By the time the conversation ends, neither party has a clue what’s really been said. Say what you have to say. You’ll be glad you did.

Be prepared. The best way to approach a conversation with a difficult employee is to be fully prepared. This means coming to the meeting with specific examples of how the employee’s behavior is directly affecting the team and the objectives you are trying to achieve. Be prepared for push-back. Frame the conversation in a way that the employee can easily see why it would be in her best interest to immediately change her behavior.

Avoid playing therapist. It’s not uncommon for difficult employees to be going through challenging situations at home, that are impacting their performance at work. There will be times in your life as a manager where you will be asked to play the role of a therapist. Instead of trying to diagnose the mental state of your employee, suggest resources where the employee can get the help they need during challenging times in their lives. Don’t attempt to take this on your own. You do not want to be responsible for what may happen next.

Know when to fold. The other day, a client relayed a conversation he had with an employee who was driving him insane. At the end of his conversation, he point blank asked the employee if he wanted to keep his job. The employee said no. That’s when my client knew it was time to fold. He took out a piece of paper so that his employee could put his resignation in writing. The employee did so and left the building. My client then went back and promoted someone who really did want the job.

The lesson here is that sometimes, no matter what you do, you will not be able to save the relationship. Give it your best shot, but be ready to move on if it turns out the relationship is not worth saving. As you become more experienced, you will better be able to assess those situations that can be resolved and those that cannot.

Source: Roberta Chinsky Matuson

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