Having a “difficult “ member of staff can become a major irritant and demotivator for the rest of the group. For example the kind of person who arrives late, always needs to leave early, rarely delivers work to deadlines and always has an excuse .
Or maybe they distract you and others, ask too many questions they should know the answer to, and upset everyone. In short they are just incompetent.
Or maybe worse, when they interact with customers, vendors and colleagues, they can be rude, short tempered, condescending, or simply wrong.
This kind of situation makes the atmosphere unpleasant and is difficult for everyone to deal with. Productivity decreases, frustrations increase, morale goes down and customers, suppliers and colleagues can all be affected. Ultimately business and profitability suffer.
The situation has to be tackled by a manager. If this difficult person is a colleague, first make sure their manager is aware of the problem. Discretion is helpful, so approach them confidentially and describe the situation.
If you are the manager, the problem is yours to solve. You must address it, don’t ignore the problem, it won’t go away! The longer the situation is allowed to exist the worse it will get. Others will see what is happening and may think “Why should I bother? They get away with poor standards “.
There are three things to consider before you act;-
- Is this person capable of providing value to the company if I intervene?
- Does the person realise they are causing a problem? Sometimes the problematic employee has not realised that their behaviour is an issue or that other people are reacting negatively to their actions. Maybe no one has discussed it with them.
- How has this situation arisen? Is it a matter of poor training, a failure of the induction process, poor management? Have they not been given feedback on their behaviour and actions? How can we ensure this doesn’t happen again?
It is the manager’s responsibility to take appropriate action to correct the problem they have been advised of, by addressing and turning round the situation.
Don’t rely on hearsay, as you may find yourself in a worse position if the accusations are not well founded. You need to research the problem, gather information from other employees to understand the extent of the problem, and observe the employee interacting with customers or suppliers.
Then equipped with accurate data and examples, and an action plan, the manager should arrange a private meeting and address the issue with the employee, ideally in a non-confrontational manner.
As with all feedback, it is usually best received if it is not delivered in a judgemental way, and focuses on the positive while still identifying problems and areas for better outcomes. It is useful to start with an honest compliment, to get the session off on a good footing.
Then the manager must establish if the employee is aware of the problems. If they are not aware, the manager needs to describe the unacceptable behaviour, and its implications for the business.
The employee may not immediately accept the existence of any issues. The manager needs to continue giving clear, accurate examples of the unwanted behaviour. The objective is to uncover the root of the problem, and appreciate how the other person perceives the situation.
The manager can ask questions and use examples such as, “Why do you behave in this way in this situation?” or “What was your thought process?”, “Can you see another way to handle this? “ This kind of questioning may lead the employee to discover their own insights and solutions.
The manager needs to allow the employee to respond to the allegations. Most people can’t learn unless they feel that they’ve had a chance to justify their behaviour. The objective is to appreciate their experience, and help to move them into a learning mode.
Asking questions such as “How could it have done better?” and “What do you think could use improvement?” helps the person to understand that these negative behaviours are real and experienced by others. It then involves them in building a shared action plan to help them get back on track.
Most employees will acknowledge the negative behaviour and attempt to turn it round.
If they absolutely refuse to believe the problems exist despite the evidence, and refuse to try to improve the situation, the manager needs to begin to consider termination.
There are many legal issues to consider here and the manager needs to carefully follow company guidelines. There should be a period for the employee to address the offending behaviour.
If this trial period does not result in improved behaviour, then the employee contract needs to be terminated. Depending on legal and company procedure this may involves recording a series of documented verbal and written feedback about the behaviour.
The manager has fulfilled their duty in recognizing the unacceptable behaviour, providing feedback to the employee, giving the employee the opportunity to try to turn it round and ultimately taking action in a timely manner.
Failure to do so is a disservice to everyone, from the problematic employee to other employees and ultimately the success of the business.
To know how to handle unreasonable and difficult people is a key skill in the art of communication. As you learn and deploy these skills, you should experience less problems, more confidence, and better relationships. All of this will contribute to your leadership success.