Deal with Difficult Employees

“Difficult” is a label we don’t actually use on our employees. We label the behavior, not the person.

For specific examples of problem behaviors and some customized responses, see How-To’s → Handle Difficult Behaviors

What follows is a series of general measures that will help you manage the troublesome behaviors of people you supervise.

Be sure to act as soon as possible when you see a problem emerging:

  • Document the facts. Identify the problem by clearly articulating it in observable or measurable terms.

As is often the case, communication becomes the key to resolving the issue:

  • Meet and discuss the problem directly with the employee. Don’t let it become personal. This is about achieving your mutual mission and goals through effective performance.

In this conversation, you need to agree on “the situation” and “the effects:”

  • Explain the facts as you see them and explain why or how this is a problem. (If the facts are in dispute, you weren’t quite ready for this conversation!)

You are the manager and you need to hold the employee accountable:

  • Focus on what to do next. Ask the employee for a plan to address the issue.

Come to a clear agreement and be ready to follow-through on your end. Be as formal as you think necessary based on the situation:

  • Write up the improvement measures and set reasonable deadlines. Share this document with the employee. Plan to revisit the issue by a specific date.

In most cases, these steps will isolate the issue at hand and give the employee the benefit of the doubt in rectifying it. Should this process repeat itself, you will have documentation with which to guide your actions. The more this process is necessary, the more you can make the case for termination.

What are some of the common mistakes in dealing with difficult conversations? Check these tips from the Harvard Business Review.