Difficult employees(122874)

Every workplace has them: people that will push your buttons. These individuals come in many forms:

  • the manager who walks all over you
  • the colleague who slacks off, working half as hard and as many hours as you do
  • the teammate who takes all credit for your work
  • the bully who you avoid working with at all costs
  • the competitive peer who is 'always right'
  • the employee who files discrimination charges with ridiculous 'facts' that are illogical and untrue
  • the supervisor who micro-manages everything you do

Have you worked with any of these people? Could you even be one of them? These types of personalities are not only detrimental to their own career growth, but to the employees around them and ultimately to the bottom line of the company. They cause good employees to leave, they waste valuable management time, and they are incredibly difficult to 'let go.'

What can you do about it? I'm personally not a conflict resolution expert, a professional development coach, nor have I managed people more than 5 years. But I love to read and have a knack for connecting with people and I believe at the core of all these counterproductive work behaviors are root issues that could be resolved with the right management style. As I use the word "management style," don't get stuck in thinking, "I'm not this person's manager and can't make a difference." You can. It's about how you manage your work relationship with this person. It's about how you manage your communication style that could make a difference in this person's life and your own job satisfaction.

So here are my recommendations based on personal experience and research. One of my favorite books on this topic is The One Minute Manager.

1. What motivates this person?

One of the first steps to getting others to do something is understanding what motivates them. What makes them feel good about themselves? Is it verbal recognition, monetary incentives, or having seniority over work assignments? Once you figure this piece out, you can structure your work requests in a way that is motivating to the individual. If you're the manager and they want a promotion, list the work assignment in their professional development goals. If it's a teammate who appreciates praise, tell them how much you value their insight and expertise and how you would love their help in the next work assignment.

2. What communication style does this person seem most comfortable with?

Is it the way you're  communicating that is causing issues? One of my own staff members only wanted to communicate through email. BUT this staff member always made it seem that the e-mails she was receiving were rude, impolite, and even discriminatory (She printed all of these out for me to review and I personally concluded they were none of these things). So I took the time to go through each email with her and presented them in a positive tone of voice so that she could see how emails are easily mis-interpreted. I also asked the entire team to walk over to her desk and verbally discuss projects with her instead of through email. This improved matters and she was able to ask questions immediately when she didn't understand something. In some situations, people may prefer you lay out your needs in a memo so that there is a paper trail of all the requests being made. This ensures all team members are on the same page and that there are no surprises when it comes to the end results.

3. When does this individual seem the most productive/successful/happy?

Pay attention to when this person is in a good mood or when they are being productive. What factors influenced this positive work behavior? Are there things in your personal control that could make your interactions more positive with this individual? Maybe making requests earlier in the day instead of when he is packing up to leave will make it more well received.

4. When does this individual seem the most unpleasant/unproductive/unhappy?

Look for the triggers of counterproductive work behavior. Are there certain days that this individual is particularly unpleasant? What caused it? Did he get skipped over in the meeting to share his viewpoint? Or are there personal issues going on outside of work that is affecting her work productivity? By understanding the cues that cause negative work behaviors, you'll see the bigger picture when it comes to working with this individual.

5. Have an open conversation.

In a considerate, non-emotional way, honestly discuss your challenges with this person. Maybe he/she didn't even know they were making life difficult for you. If it's your direct manager who is micromanaging everything you do, tell them you need some space to be creative so that you can feel like you're making your own contributions to the work unit. If it's your teammate who always steals the show, share with him/her that you would like a chance to share a great idea you had in the next meeting. More often than not, people are well-meaning individuals who don't have ill intentions when they behave a certain way.

6. Is it you?

If you pay close attention, you may realize that this employee that you hate isn't necessarily disliked by everyone. In fact, he or she may have excellent relationships with others. Figure out why. What is it about those relationships that make it easy to talk to or work with this individual? Who does he/she trust? By collecting information in this way, you can begin to create your own positive relationship with the individual. It's important you do so, because you just can't ignore this person. The relationship could get worse and you may be labeled as a "difficult person" to work with too!

If all else fails, consider the following:

7. Do you really have to work with this individual?

Are there ways to minimize the interactions you have with this individual? Work with your peers or boss to identify methods of communication that would reduce the interactions you must have with the problem employee. You may even consider electing to skip out on projects that involve this individual, although that may make a dent on your own professional growth.

8. Escalate the issue to an authority in the unit.

Bring up your concerns to your own supervisor. He may have a whole new perspective that you don't have. He may offer suggestions to help resolve your relationship issues with the individual. He may talk to the manager of the other employee to see if there are developmental classes they could take to improve their behavior. Or he may simply take one of the two out of the project.

Ultimately, you can complain all you want about your coworkers, your company, and your job. But at the end of the day, it's how you handled everything that influences your own life satisfaction.

Love professional growth? Consider reading these other articles: Give yourself a confidence boost, the Power of Vision Casting, How to Make $5,000 in 30 minutes, How are
Job Interviews Created? and What Makes a Great Place to Work?

Here are some more books on Dealing with Difficult People.