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Posted: April 17, 2014

Best of CoBiz: Four great tips to handle difficult employees

If it's worth the effort, try these

Derek Murphy

Don't you wish people would always behave in a mature and professional manner, without any conflict? Wouldn't that be nice? Unfortunately, reality shows us when people work together there is bound to be conflict, and most workplaces have a problematic staffer or two.

Luckily, difficult employees are easy to spot - they show up late, leave early, are grouchy, rude, condescending, talk but never listen. The list could go on and on.

Clearly, no one wants to work with a difficult employee.

But there's a catch.

What happens when a difficult person is also one of your most valuable employees and someone you really need on the team?

Many managers simply ignore the issue, and hope the problem will just go away. Unfortunately, that can cause an even bigger problem - poor morale. Employees may lose respect for the manager because they believe the manager is not doing their job. This could result in a ripple effect of lost productivity, and potential loss of staff, customers, and income.

Managers may be tempted to fire the employee, which is not always the best solution. After all, it is costly to hire and train new employees.

Oftentimes, the better option is to find a way of curbing the detrimental behavior, so you can keep them in their otherwise productive role.

Here are a few tips to remember.

Take a look at your own behaviors and management style first. Evaluate how you view people who disagree with you. Do you try to understand the basis for their views? Do you ask questions respectfully? Do you work toward mutual understanding, or simply try to convince them you are right?

Give the employee the benefit of the doubt. The employee may not realize their behavior is a problem or how others react to their actions. Determine if there are aspects of the job that can cause the person to be difficult. Schedule a meeting with the employee and give them feedback on their behavior.

Be specific when giving feedback. Vague feedback, such as "You need to improve," is useless. Specifically, what needs to be improved? What does the individual need to do differently to be more effective? How will improvement be measured?

Get the employee back on track. We all know it's not as easy as simply having a candid conversation once and then everything is fixed. Continuous improvement requires, among other things, an ongoing effort made by both the employee and their manager. Your role as coach and mentor is as critical to the success of this behavioral turnaround as the employee's efforts. Remember, the employee will need time and practice on implementing the new and appropriate behaviors. And you'll need some patience. For many of us, this is easier said than done (yours truly included).

Good luck!

Derek Murphy is CEO of TBC, a global assessment company with over 4 decades of experience, specializing in 360s and survey customization. Our hosting platform, TruScore®, allows you to manage all of your talent management assessments in one central location. Request a demo to discover why some of the most recognized brands in the Fortune 1000 chose TBC.

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