How to Deal with a Difficult Employee in the Workplace

Deal with attitude problems before they become performance issues.

Deal with attitude problems before they become performance issues.

One requirement of managing others is the occasional need to deal with a difficult employee. Whether the employee is unresponsive to feedback on performance, or if he becomes a problem because he is unable to do what is required, you need to work with him to find a good way to deal with on-the-job issues. Regardless of the reasons a subordinate develops a bad habit, there are steps you can take to handle such issues and the employee who creates them.

Schedule a time to address the employee's behavior immediately. Failing to do so sends a message that he can continue to be difficult and get away with it. Delaying your response might also increase your apprehension and make it more difficult to address the issue in the future.

Identify what you want to achieve by meeting with the employee. Evaluate specific solutions that might address the problems at hand. Also, try to consider the employee's viewpoint. For example, he may be difficult due to frustration with a new accounting system.

Pick a private spot -- an office or conference room -- to speak to the employee. Avoid public areas. Otherwise, the employee may become even more difficult. Holding such conversations in private also assures other employees that you'll treat them respectfully as well.

Encourage the employee to work with you to solve the problem. Above all else, remain professional and don't berate the employee. Instead, you might say "We seem to have a problem with posting receivables in a timely manner. What can we do to fix this?"

Take a step back and allow the employee to let off steam. It's likely he'll need time to vent before he can calmly discuss any issues. After a few minutes, if he becomes angry, state the importance of remaining calm as you discuss issues.

Walk in the employee's shoes as you discuss his attitude. Empathize with him and acknowledge his opinion, but don't agree with him unless you really do. For example, "Tom, it can be stressful to work with new software while dealing with customers and closing deadlines."

Work with the employee to identify a solution, but first emphasize common goals. For example, state "We both want this team to be successful and we all have been affected by the software implementation. Don't you agree?" You can issue a direct order. However, he's more likely to cooperate if he believes you're working together to solve a functional, rather than a personal issue.

Offer two to three alternative solutions to any issue he describes as a possible source of his attitude. Doing so ensures that you both stay focused on issues and not on his behavior. It also confirms that you respect his opinion. For example, if the employee states that his attitude results from issues with the new accounts receivable system, ask "Would it be helpful for you to work directly with the billing department to better understand their processes?" or "Would you prefer to learn the system by attending a hands-on training course?"

Avoid hashing and rehashing the problem. Stay focused on solutions to avoid the possibility that the employee's emotions will get out of hand. After you identify a likely resolution, verbally confirm the action. For example, "I'll arrange for you to work with Mary next Wednesday." State your appreciation for the employee's time, his efforts to resolve the issue and his commitment to the plan of action. Excuse yourself or turn the conversation to day-to-day work activities.

 

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About the Author

Billie Nordmeyer works as a consultant advising small businesses and Fortune 500 companies on performance improvement initiatives, as well as SAP software selection and implementation. During her career, she has published business and technology-based articles and texts. Nordmeyer holds a Bachelor of Science in accounting, a Master of Arts in international management and a Master of Business Administration in finance.

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