How To Manage Difficult Employees

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 25, 2021 | Published December 12, 2019

Updated August 25, 2021

Published December 12, 2019

As you interact with others throughout your career, it is normal to have conflicts with other employees. Personality differences, varying goals and miscommunication can all lead to frustration or tension between coworkers or between supervisors and employees. Knowing how to communicate effectively can increase your chances of promoting a conflict-free work environment. In this article, we offer tips for how to speak with challenging employees so you can avoid or resolve conflicts in the workplace.

Tips for working with challenging employees

Knowing how to work with challenging employees can ensure a more productive team. Consider trying these tips:

  1. Be positive.

  2. Give clear feedback.

  3. Let them speak first.

  4. Document the issues.

  5. Understand their personality.

  6. Be consistent.

  7. Create consequences.

  8. Use your company’s procedures.

  9. Follow through.

1. Be positive

While it can be uncomfortable to talk to someone about their challenging behavior, you can make it a better experience by keeping the conversation positive. You can maintain a positive work environment by not discussing the employee’s problems with your coworkers and waiting to address them personally. Remind yourself of the positive contributions your coworker makes despite your differences.

Related: 9 Tips for Being Positive at Work

2. Give clear feedback

Giving feedback to a challenging employee can help them improve their behavior. It is important to provide them with constructive feedback when you speak to them. This feedback can include the actions that are making it hard to work with them and suggestions on what they can change.

For example, if they are consistently late to work and preventing your team meetings from starting on time, you could tell them that their behavior prevents group progress. If they say they are late due to being stuck in traffic, you can work through the problem together. You might suggest that they leave the house earlier to avoid being in traffic. When you speak to them in a helpful tone, they may be more open to discussing solutions to the issues.

3. Let them speak first

Take the time to let the employee explain what is going on before responding. When you listen to a coworker, you may understand where their behavior is coming from.

You may find that there are issues that are not the employee’s fault, such as personal situations that are temporarily affecting their work. Hearing their explanation can help you understand and create a solution.

4. Document the issues

When you are interacting with a challenging employee, try keeping a private record of problematic behavior. If the problems continue, you can use the list to provide feedback if it is appropriate to do so, or present it to a supervisor. If you list problems without being able to give specific examples, it may be more difficult to communicate the problem.

5. Understand their personality

Knowing how to approach an employee can make a big difference in resolving conflict, so consider thinking about what their personality is like. They might need help to be held accountable for their actions. When you talk to them, you can be clear about what actions they are engaging in and how they affect you or other employees.

You could help them by outlining a 90-day plan that they can work on improving their performance. For example, you can say that you would like them to turn in all assignments on time for the next 90 days.

Read more: Character Traits: Definition and Examples

6. Be consistent

If you are in a supervisor position, you should be consistent each time you encounter a situation with a challenging employee.

For example, if you are having trouble with your employee turning their reports in on time, tell them it is not acceptable each time it happens. If you say something about turning in Wednesday’s report late yet let them turn in Friday’s report with no comments, they might think you are lenient with the rules. You should make your standards and goals clear from the first conversation.

Related:Setting Goals to Improve Your Career

7. Create consequences

Consider setting consequences for what will happen if the employee breaks the rules. This can be a motivating way to encourage an employee to change. You can also give them a timeline, such as saying you would like to see them take part in meetings by the end of the week. You can make it clear what the consequence is so they have a reason to change, such as being ineligible for promotion until the change occurs.

8. Use your company’s procedures

When trying to figure out how to work with challenging employees, you might need help from a supervisor. If you have already discussed the employee’s behavior with the employee directly and seen no change, you can consider bringing up the issues to your supervisor. They will know what to do next according to the company’s policy. They may also refer you to human resources if the policies or procedures must be defined more clearly.

9. Follow through

You can influence an employee to change by following what you say you will do. If you tell an employee they cannot stay on your team if they continue to fail to reach their goals, follow through on this. This may motivate them to make changes.

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