Strategies for Dealing with Difficult Employees

Whenever two or more people work together on a regular basis there will almost always be situations that arise that will be difficult. The more people there are in the workplace, the higher the odds are that there will be some difficult co-workers.

When I owned my kitchen and bath firm, I had several challenging situations with otherwise good employees. There was one woman who was an excellent salesperson, but she simply wasn’t a team player. She only wanted to wait on customers who were doing bigger projects and she didn’t want to “waste her time” on smaller orders.

Another salesperson had excellent selling skills, but her time management skills were terrible. She’d make promises she didn’t keep and her follow through and follow up were atrocious.

Then we had a guy working in our warehouse who had problems at home that he’d bring to work. It affected his attitude and productivity and that, in turn, affected his co-workers.

Finally, there was a woman who just had to keep stirring things up. If there was something she wasn’t happy about, she would get other employees aside, share her concerns and try to rally others against management and company policies.

Now overall, we had terrific employees, and none of these situations were earth shattering. But nonetheless, they were still situations that needed to be dealt with in order to make everyone’s working environment healthy and happy.

A work force is made up of a variety of personalities. The needs of each employee are different. As a manager, your challenge is to be in tune to these needs and be on top of each and every difficult situation and employee. If you don’t identify the problems and do something about them in a timely manner, you can end up with some serious problems.

Keeping People Productive

There are a number of things that you must do to help make your team as productive and happy as possible. Here are some of those things:

  • Hire right in the first place
  • Have written Job Descriptions for every position. Everyone deserves to know what is expected of them.
  • Do regularly scheduled Job Performance Evaluations. Everyone deserves to know how they are doing. This is your opportunity to be a teacher and a mentor.
  • Have a Policy and Procedures Manual…something in writing that spells out your company policies and how the business will be operated. You want everyone walking to the same beat.
  • Have a formal, written Training Program. You need to teach your employees how your business is going to be operated. Sure, you need to do product training, but you also need to do sales training, computer training and policy and procedures training.
  • You, the boss, have to learn how to be a good motivator. Most of you know…it’s different strokes for different folks! Everyone is different – and you have to learn what motivation works for each and every employee.
  • You have to build a team. Kitchen and bath dealers are small businesses. Everyone has to be cross trained to do everything. Everyone has to help each other. The only way to maximize success is to build a team that knows what the ultimate goals are and how to go about achieving them.
  • You, the boss, must learn to be assertive. You must learn to manage in a fair, firm and consistent manner. You are not running a popularity contest. And yes, you can be assertive and still be a “nice guy.”
  • You must attack problems head on. Once you’ve identified a difficult situation, you have to address it. Almost always this should be done one-on-one – in private. Identify the problem with the person involved, reach an agreement on the solution and then monitor it over a period of time. It may take some extra coaching and mentoring. Whatever you do, don’t let a problem fester. It will only get worse.
  • Be a good communicator. Learn to ask “smart” questions. Be perceptive. Some of your communication will be verbal, some will be written and some will be body language, eye contact and facial expressions. Be good in each of these areas.
  • Learn to be a great listener.

Dealing with Problems

Following is a list of bullet point tips that you might use in dealing with difficult individuals:

  • Remember that people of dissimilar ability can find each other difficult.
  • Watch for signals that more job variety might be needed.
  • Get to know each member of your team so that you can become aware of how to best help them. Motivate a difficult person by understanding what they need.
  • Build a supportive culture that recognizes staff.
  • Identify each team member’s skills in order to allocate them suitable roles.
  • Pick a team with varied skills to ensure harmony among the group.
  • Work to change people who always respond negatively.
  • Know your team members strengths and weaknesses.
  • Identify approaches that
  • motivate the team and use them more often.
  • Make people feel like they are part of a winning team.
  • Celebrate good news and team achievements. Show people that you value their contributions.
  • Know that how you communicate with your employees is as vital as what you communicate. Always be positive and constructive when you are communicating.
  • Learn to identify signs when people are about to become more difficult. Recognize that difficult behavior can be a habit if not tackled early. Remember that avoiding the problem is only a short-term solution!
  • Define roles to reduce competing or defending within the team.
  • Be aware of your own emotional responses. Give yourself time to look objectively at a situation. Always review a difficult person’s overall performance to avoid a hasty action.
  • Respect the rights of others and compromise when appropriate.
  • Listen to others if you want to be listened to yourself.
  • Make sure that difficult people understand the full impact of their behavior.
  • Aim to improve performance – it is more cost effective than dismissal.
  • Set realistic time frames for staff to demonstrate improvement.

The ability to lead difficult individuals out of unproductive situations to improved performance and better working relationships is an essential management skill. Learning to deal effectively with difficult people equips you with proven techniques and strategies to enable you to anticipate problem people, stop trouble from escalating and help awkward staff become fully contributing members of your team.

If you would like a self assessment questionnaire that will assist you in measuring your skill level and help you identify areas that are in need of improvement, just send me a request via e-mail me at