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Handling a Difficult Employee

Handling a Difficult EmployeeIf you are a manager, you will have to deal with all kinds of employees in your job, including handling difficult employees. It is an unfortunate reality that every organization has a number of these characters. It is also true that most managers don’t like handling a difficult employee; they will much rather ignore the issue or skirt around it because this is much easier to do. But remember, if you are a manager or a supervisor and you don’t know how to handle a difficult employee, then you become the difficult employee yourself…

Why is a Difficult Employee Difficult?

Is this some character flaw? Is it because these people are born this way? Well, I can almost guarantee that these people are this way because their supervisors past and present did not have the courage to confront them. Most managers in organizations want to be nice guys – they don’t want any hassles and there is enough tension anyway in routine work so why bother they think.

Difficult employees are difficult because this difficult behavior has benefited them in the past. It was probably ignored or it got them what they wanted whether it was less work, less responsibility, etc. Another possibility is that they were never aware that there was another way to behave at work. Difficult behavior arises from insecurity, immaturity or some fear – this is not very different from young teenagers who become difficult for their hapless parents to handle.

What are the Key Steps to Handle a Difficult Employee

1- Act and confront quickly

Anyone who is behaving outside established norms in an organization needs to know that there is going to be a consequence and swift accountability with an immediate supervisor. If traffic rules are not enforced, you will not have good drivers, and so it is with behavior. If there is no quick push back in case of difficult behavior, it will continue. A manager who delays and procrastinates and hopes that the problem will go away will find that the problem repeats and magnifies. A manager who confronts the issue quickly usually is rewarded with positive results and enhanced respect.

2- Don’t pre-judge

Although there is a need to take action quickly, the action must not be either impulsive or judgmental. There needs to be a clear distinction between judging the person and judging the behavior. You are not there to judge a person and his/her childhood upbringing; your job is to assess why the employee is behaving that way and what can be done about it. Perhaps there is a specific reason for the difficult behavior caused by some unusual stress at work or at home. Getting some idea of what lies beneath the outer behavior provides a road map for a potential solution and remedial action plan.

3- Have a counseling strategy

This means planning and knowing how you will act, what you will say, whether someone else in the meeting will help or not. The last thing you want to do is to do an unplanned session where you lecture for an hour, then lose your temper and feel like a fool afterwards. Staying calm, in listening mode, is a good way to go. You need to be confident, firm but not judgmental. After listening, summarize what you heard. A great managerial skill is to acknowledge what you have heard without giving the impression that you are agreeing or disagreeing. Remember to ensure there is an agreed action step at the end of the session and a date for the next review to ascertain progress.



  1. Asad Zaidi

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  3. Moetesum

    We need to first explore the correct context of the word difficult from an organization point of view.

    In my opinion, as long as we treat people as employees, they will always seem difficult. As soon as the element of this relationship surfaces, the meaning of contact is lost. He or she will move to a posture best suited to avoid the situation, a cloak for hiding to be more exact.

    Yet if we treat them as people, treat them as a particular individual a point from where star, yet slide to a defined role later on, thus effectively killing the purpose.

    What to do if some one junior to you is senior in service and experience. How to confront a more aggressive young blood who is out there to conquer all in one go, every person is difficult, the sooner you define as a manager what difficult is the more active approach one can derive.


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