How do you manage a difficult employee without creating a tense work environment?

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Answered by: Cecilia, An Expert in the Managing People Category
When you are in a situation where you have to discipline a difficult employee my first word of advice is documentation. Be sure to ALWAYS document any and all conversations you engage in with the employee. This is not only beneficial in an instance where the situation leads to termination but also to keep the facts in front of you as events transpire.

Begin your conversation with, "This is not a discussion. I have a situation that I need to address with you and I need to advise you about your difficult behavior." I advise beginning the conversation with this phrase simply because a difficult employee tends to argue and to not listen at all to the complaint that you have. Also this helps you to prepare an argument with focus and precision.

Be sure to take notes and have your arguments well thought out and planned prior to bringing the employee in to see you. This method also helps you to discipline the employee without interruption and helps you to keep your thoughts collected. Sometimes the problem you are trying to remedy is blurred by too much conversation. It is important that you have the employee’s undivided attention and that you only address one issue at a time.

If you let too many things build up then it gets more and more difficult to deal with a person who is already struggling to adhere to your guidelines and or expectations. Address issues as they arise. Be firm but do not be so firm that the employee then shuts down and refuses to openly discuss his/her behavior with you. Make sure the employee knows you have an open door policy and that you are interested in fixing the situation. Once you have expressed everything that you need to be said then you can engage the employee and ask that they explain their behavior to you. In a lot of cases it’s a matter of perception. The employee and you are simply missing each other’s point of view.

It is also important to make the employee feel comfortable with you however at all times. Make sure they know you are the boss and that you command respect. Make sure the employee hears it from you that although you are the boss you respect their job. Once the employee understands that you do care and are willing to listen in most cases the employee/supervisor relationship begins to improve. It is very time consuming to woo an employee into doing exactly what you expect but in the long run you will be glad you took the time. See yourself as a parent because really that is what you become on the job. Employees look up to you for direction and support you need to be approachable yet firm at the same time. Keep a balance of openness and respect. Remember that if your employees are happy you will be happier with their job in general as well.

Think of it as a win-win situation. Also keep in mind that not all employees are interested in being team players and doing a good job. Often times you will no doubt have to make replacements in your staff. Good luck!

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