How To Solve A Problem – Tips for Managing Difficult Employees
As your store begins to grow it is important to hire employees that will help your business become a success. Often times that is much easier said than done. Managing people is no easy task, the more employees that you take on, the more of chance that you they will have conflict with each other, or with you. As a manager it is important to recognize if there is conflict amongst your team and take steps to resolve it as soon as possible.
The following article by Rose Jacobs was recently printed in Forbes Magazine on how to solve a problem with a difficult employee. Jacobs discusses 6 steps to take when you realize that one of your employees is being difficult and it is your job to get involved. It is important to remember that something has to be done, even if they are just having a ‘bad day’. If you do not step up to the plate and take action they will walk all over you and you will loose the respect of the other employees and your customers as well.
How To Solve A People Problem: 6 Tips For Managing Difficult Employees
BY: ROSE JACOBS
No one ever said managing people was easy, but trends in today’s work environment often make it harder still. While employees used to be able to retreat to their offices or cubicles when the need arose–whether because of an interpersonal conflict or just a desire to focus uninterrupted–today’s open office plans and glass walls offer little respite from co-workers. In addition, the employees at any one company may hail from many different countries and cultures, creating the potential for misunderstandings and misinterpretation.
Yet, one of the biggest challenges for managers has remained consistent over the years: dealing with a lone, difficult employee. The woman who behaves imperiously with teammates. The man who grumbles over every assignment. The new recruit who refuses to communicate. The variations can be endless, with experts identifying categories as various as “Space Cadets” (as described by Marie McIntyre, founder of the Web company Your Office Coach COH +2.14%), “Volcanoes” (in Inc magazine) and “Splicers and Dicers” (according to Vicky Oliver, a Manhattan-based career adviser).
Fortunately, most people who work at creating harmony in offices–from seasoned managers to career and personal coaches–believe solutions can be found by following a few standard (if not always simple) steps.
Mercedes Hoss-Weis, a project manager, coach and trainer with more than two decades of experience working in the pharmaceutical sector and as a consultant in South America, the United States and Europe, provided some recommendations for today’s work environment.
It doesn’t matter what kind of interpersonal issues you’re dealing with, the first step toward resolving a problem involves assessing the situation, and the best way to do that is to ask open questions and really listen to the responses. You may discover that the person you thought was the problem was in fact just reacting to a bullying team environment–or even to your own management style, which you may not have realized was provocative.
2. Give feedback – and coach.
A good manager will make sure that if a team member is being obstructionist or lazy, that person will be told–clearly, and with evidence to hand. It is unfair to escalate a problem to HR behind a person’s back. Moreover, sometimes simply alerting an employee to an issue and suggesting ways to improve can be enough to initiate change.
With that said, giving feedback might be harder to do today than in the past, given the fishbowl-like conditions in which many of us work. Hoss-Weis says you need to work around this challenge, even if it means pulling an employee aside for a coffee, because location matters. “Get into the habit of giving praise in public and placing blame in private,” Hoss-Weis said.
3. Avoid personalizing conflicts.
Marriage counselors often encourage couples to use the statement “I feel…” when working through problems. Don’t try this at work. When coping with a difficult employee, it is important that you focus on the issue at hand–assignments not getting done to a certain standard, for example–and not on the personality of the employee. “There is nothing wrong with liking or disliking someone, but you need to work with them regardless,” Hoss-Weis explained.
4. Look for root causes.
It’s easy to assume that what you see in a person is what they essentially are–grouchy, obdurate, or easily distracted. And sometimes that is the case. But those negative character traits are often brought to the surface by the situation at hand. At the office, this often means by the content of the work itself. People avoiding teamwork might be doing so because they don’t feel up to tasks being tackled and don’t want their weaknesses exposed. Employees who complete assignments in a perfunctory fashion might be bored and in need of more challenging projects to keep them engaged.
On discovering this sort of mismatch, said Hoss-Weis, a good manager will try to find or create a more appropriate role for the worker on the team. But if that’s not possible, the best option might be a shift to somewhere else within the company–or outside it. “Don’t make false promises about what you can give them,” she said. “Don’t string people along.”
5. Consider culture.
Never before have workplaces been so international, and that can exacerbate the challenge of dealing with problematic employees. A person from a culture that leans toward straight may not realize he is offending a co-worker brought up in a culture that is focused more on diplomacy.
But company culture must also be taken into account–even unique cultures that have developed within a department or team. Hoss-Weis said one flash point for conflicts at work is when a new manager inherits an old team. Expectations on both sides of the boss-employee divide need adjusting, and some people are slower at adapting than others. Her main tip? Ask for clarification–often. You may think you understand what others want from you, but asking them to clarify those desires may reveal gaps in your understanding.
6. Don’t be afraid to cut the cord.
Being a manager involves making tough choices, and these might well include deciding that a co-worker’s benefits to the team or organization do not outweigh the problems he or she creates. Just as important as having the courage to make this call, however, is the preparation that goes into it. Make sure you understand what you need to do ahead of time in terms of company policy and your country’s labor laws. The only thing worse than a forced exit is a messy forced exit.
By following these six guidelines—and applying them in different ways—managers may find that handling difficult employees isn’t their most challenging assignment because there will be fewer issues to have to manage.
Rose Jacobs has worked as a copy editor, features editor, news editor and, most recently, as an FT business reporter covering transportation.