Guest post from Beth Miller:
We’ve all been challenged with at least one difficult person
at work. Why do they have to be so rude, dismissive, abrasive, etc.? Difficult
employees aren’t the person who has a bad day and acts out in appropriately,
they are the ones who have gained a reputation for being difficult.
And, if they are spreading their bad behavior to others and
having a negative impact on the team, then they are more than difficult, they
Why are they so difficult? This is the first question that
you need to ask yourself. Experience has shown me that there is often an
underlying reason for the person’s unwanted behavior. Schedule 1-1 time with
the employee, as soon as you notice a pattern of bad behavior. Not addressing
the behavior in a timely manner is just an initiation for more of the same
Get curious first. Is it the job? Is it a personal issue?
Are there team members that are causing stress? Or, is it just who they are?
If you find that there is a reason behind their behavior and
not just their personality, then it’s time to help.
Once you understand the underlying reason for your
employee’s bad behavior then it’s time to coach. Coaching your difficult
employee to understand the impact they have on others and themselves is your
first step to mitigating the problem behavior. The next step is getting them to
commit to change and taking action.
Explore with them how their behavior is impacting them and
their performance by asking these questions during a 1-1 meeting:
How do you think people react when you are __________ to
How can their reactions to you potentially impact you
How does this this behavior show up outside of work?
How does this behavior help you?
What triggers this behavior? A person, a task, a situation?
What do you think will happen if you continue to behave this
Once they agree that their behavior isn’t benefitting them
or others around them, then it’s time for them to put a plan together to change.
Ask these questions:
What steps can you take to decrease this behavior?
How would you know these steps are working?
When do you plan on resolving the situation?
How committed are you to changing on a scale of 1-10?
What would it take to increase your commitment by 1 point?
For some individuals, asking questions to get them to
self-reflect may not be enough. This is when you have to give your feedback to
them. Give them concrete examples in a timely manner of what you’ve observed. A
great technique to use is by starting with “Can I share an observation with
you?” I have never had someone answer no to this question. And answering yes
gives you permission to share your feedback.
Define for them what behavior is acceptable moving forward,
what changes need to occur with measurable goals. Then jointly create a
development plan with a specific timeline. I recommend a 30-60-90 day plan. You
want to see some immediate small changes that will incrementally become larger
over time. Be prepared to have additional 1-1 meetings with the person during
Explain the Consequences
Once you have coached and provided then with direct
feedback, they need to understand the consequences of not meeting their
commitment. Generally, a loss is more of a motivator than a gain. Determine
what will motivate them. Is it a loss of privileges to work remotely, an
upcoming bonus, or rescinding a high-profile project?
There will be some people that either can’t or won’t change
their bad behaviors and you need to be prepared to part ways with them. Make
sure in these cases that you document all the conversations, so you have
established a pattern of behavior and the steps taken to address the situation,
and the employee’s failure to change.
And remember through all of this, that dealing with negative
employees can distract you from more important issues. Don’t spend all your
time and energy on the difficult person, just enough to know that you provided
the person with the opportunity to make the needed changes. If you ultimately
let the employee go, don’t look back. Just
learn from your experience.
Beth Miller is an accomplished author, speaker, and
solution provider; her insight
and expertise make her a sought-after leadership influencer. A serial
entrepreneur and executive coach as well as a former Vistage Chair of 13 years,
Beth is featured in numerous
industry blogs and publications including Entrepreneur, Leadercast, and
TalentCulture.com. Her book, “Are
You Talent Obsessed?,” compiles her best practices for business