What are the best steps to take when managing difficult people in a team environment?

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Answered by: Adrienne, An Expert in the Managing People Category
Managing difficult people is different from simply dealing with difficult people. Especially in team environments, a difficult person who is dissatisfied in their job normally experiences quick burnout, so the easiest way to deal with them is to allow them ostracize themselves to the point of resignation. While easy, however, that is the absolute worst method of personnel management, and is reserved only for extreme circumstances where the following method just won't work. Try these five simple steps before you write off an uncooperative employee.

Step #1: Do Some Sleuthing

Closely observe your problem employee and analyze their behavior. Note the specific ways in which they are difficult and any triggers that spark inappropriate responses. Record what you identify in as much detail as possible and keep those documents confidential. If you're getting complaints from other team members, accept their concerns in writing and file those with the rest of your documents. Then gather any reports that help gauge their actual job performance. All of this information will give you a clearer picture of the employee's behavior issue.

Step #2: Identify Possible Problem Areas

Attitude and behavior problems normally stem from one of four root causes: stress in their personal lives, frustration due to inability to perform their job function, personality and cultural clashes among teammates, or burnout related to overload or boredom. Review the information you gathered while sleuthing and decide which issue your employee is likely grappling with. Each unique issue demands a different approach and action plan. Consider specific problems they are likely facing and brainstorm possible solutions before you discuss the case with anyone else. Write everything down. Then, conference with your own supervisors, or any other co-supervisors, and discuss your findings and intentions before moving on to step three.

Step #3: Confront Your Difficult Employee

Do not do this at the beginning of their shift, during their off time, or through email. The best time to confront a difficult employee is slightly before the end of their shift. This way, everyone is still on the clock, on record and getting paid. Communicate clearly and directly. Simply ask for a few minutes of their time and make sure there is a private meeting space available. Have your documentation ready, but out of sight. Calmly tell them that there is an issue with their behavior and you intend to discuss it with them and work towards solutions together. Explain the bulk of your concerns and allow them opportunities to answer. Listening is the most important part of this step. Learn all you can about the cause of their behavior and take notes. Wrap up the meeting and schedule a follow-up before committing to anything solid. A successful meeting cools hot heads, and any problem behaviors should abate for at least a short time.

Step #4: Take Time to Reflect

After the meeting, you should have all the information you need to devise an appropriate action plan. This is your time to go over all of your documentation. Use your management skills to help your employee solve their problems. For example, suggest amending their schedule or offer time off if a family obligation is plaguing their thoughts. Perhaps they need more training in order to feel comfortable performing their job. Burnout, fortunately, is easy to handle. If your employee is overloaded, then you are the problem. If they're bored, then you're also the problem. Plan to readjust their workload to suit their energy level. When you encounter social clashes among your team members, often a group meeting fixes everything. Especially when you remind everyone that they don't have to like each other to peacefully work with each other. Once you have an acceptable plan, consult with your other supervisors to make sure everyone stays on the same page.

Step #5: Follow-up With the Difficult Employee

Ideally, a few days passed since the meeting and the employee rectified their own behavior issues. Either way, meet with them again to inform them of your action plan, your expectations and the consequences they will face should they not meet those expectations. At the end of the day, the bottom line of the business is what counts. As a manager, you must make the final decision as to whether or not the business can afford to accommodate a problem employee. Document everything, and stick to your decision. Monitor the employee with regular performance reviews.

If you go through all of these steps and you still have a difficult person on your hands, cut them loose. A chain is only as strong as its weakest link, and sometimes it's more cost effective to hire and train a new employee than it is to carry one who has lost productivity and constantly jeopardizes morale. Do your best to remain objective when managing difficult people.

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