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How to Deal with Difficult Employees


Whether as a manager or a coworker, at some point in time almost everyone will have to deal with a difficult employee. There are many ways to deal with difficult people such as transferring them, firing them or in some way simply removing the issue. In other cases, however, the difficult employee may actually be an effective and valuable part of the team.

They may be one of your top earning salespeople or one of the most tenured and trusted employees, while you are the new person. When simply removing a difficult person is not an option, here are 4 tips to dealing with them effectively.

1. Identify specific behaviors they engage in that make them “difficult”

More often than not, “difficult people” are difficult because they rub us the wrong way. When we actually look at very specific behaviors they engage in that irritate, bother or annoy us, it can make us feel very petty and childish for being bothered by them. Which is exactly why we avoid looking at specifics in the first place.

In some cases, they might just be too loud for our liking or always want to be the center of attention. Perhaps they steal the ideas of others and claim them as their own or just spend too much time chatting and not enough time working.

 When you focus on specific behaviors it also forces you to question why they bother you so much. Generally the reason we hate dealing with difficult people is that they often reveal things about ourselves that we don’t like to face.

2. TALK to them

It is shocking how often people try to “deal” with difficult people by simply avoiding dealing with them at all. In some cases, abrasive employees may legitimately be completely unaware of the negative effect they have on people and in other cases, they may be going through something that is causing the behavior.

Rather than confronting them directly and dealing with them like mature adults however, many teams can resort to behaviors more suited to school children. They may start to gossip about the person behind their back, refuse to invite them to socialize after work or even shun them in the break room over lunch.

None of these behaviors will help the situation and in many cases it can even begin to affect office dynamics on a much larger scale. Clear communication is critical. Before things get out of hand, it is important to sit down and have a meaningful face-to-face with the individual.

3. Work with them to create boundaries around specific behaviors

More often than not, when we find someone else’s behavior to be irritating, annoying or inappropriate we want them to be the ones to change, not us. There are some behaviors they can change, however, and some they can’t. If there are behaviors they can change, such as consistently talking too loudly in an open office, you can work on ways to facilitate changes, such as asking them to lower their voice or moving their conversations to a private room.

The attributes, traits or behaviors they can’t change, you will have to find a way to deal with. For instance, if you just simply find their voice to be annoying in general no matter how softly they speak, you may need to find a way to simply block it out such as by wearing noise cancelling headphones.

4. Adapt your behavior to facilitate changes in theirs

In many cases, the best and most effective way of changing someone else’s behavior is to change your own. One great way to do this is to start accentuating the positive rather than the negative. It is very easy to create a long list of all the things you don’t like about difficult people, but you may have far more success focusing on their positive traits instead.

It may be difficult to find positive traits in difficult people, but if you look hard enough, you will certainly find them. Even the most difficult and challenging people have their good qualities if you just take the time to look for them. Who knows, when you find their good qualities and start to focus on those, you may not even find the person quite so challenging anymore. You may even start to like them.

The trouble with dealing with difficult people is that they often force us to address issues in ourselves we would rather not face. We want difficult people to be the sole problem, not our own attitudes or (in some cases) even prejudices. The truth is, however, that most difficulties arise because of issues that need to be addressed in both parties. When dealing with difficult people, you always have to look at both their behaviors and your own to see what changes can be made on both sides.

Jasmine Williams covers the good and the bad of today’s business and marketing. When she’s not being all serious and busy, she’s usually hunched over a book or dancing in the kitchen, trying hard to maintain rhythm, and delivering some fine cooking (her family says so). Contact her @JazzyWilliams88

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