Dealing With Difficult People At Work

I once visited an organization that had an outstanding reputation and seemed very successful. As I was introduced to individual staff members, everyone seemed affable. It seemed like the kind of a team that anyone would be happy to be a part of. Following the tour and introductions, we went back to the CEO’s office. I started to compliment her on what she and her team had built. She stopped me and said she needed to explain why I had been invited. It turns out that my CEO friend was concerned about how the organization’s culture had deteriorated. There were a handful of workers who had become difficult and disruptive. Their behavior had now begun to impact others negatively. All of a sudden, people were exchanging unfounded rumors about individuals and the company. Senior managers had to be careful about who would be assigned to cross-functional teams because some people couldn’t stand to work with other staff members. It was a mess. The CEO was concerned that the work quality had begun to suffer and knew that soon clients and outsiders would notice. She asked for my help.

I will save you the long narrative because it took about six months to help turn things around. We worked on the culture one person and one issue at a time

Several people left. A number had to be encouraged to find other employment. Today, I am told things are better.  Situations like this don’t begin or end overnight.

But their impact is significant in many ways.

In a “Civility In America” survey, Weber Shandwick said that uncivil workplaces result in 45% of employees thinking about quitting, 38% felt anger towards coworkers, and 36% noticed a reduction in their work quality.

This is why a leader has to step in at the first sign of problems with an employee. It is natural for a someone to think that the situation will take care of itself. It rarely does.

It helps if you can recognize the early warning signs.

You notice a sudden decline in work performance

Employees miss or ignore deadlines.

They challenge authority.

They don’t feel they can do wrong and know better than the boss.

They gossip and spread rumors.

They arrive late or begin to call in sick regularly.

They are late for meetings.

Displace negative body language.

When you notice this type of behavior in someone on your staff, you need to figure out if this behavior results from a temporary situation or possibly a problem at home. When people are under stress, they don’t do their best work. If the problem is personal, the best thing a manager can do is direct them to an employee assistance program. But you don’t know what is going on unless you ask.

A good manager needs to know how to have that conversation, what to say, what not to say, and how to coach the person.

I’ve been studying the psychology of supervising workers that cause problems for managers and their colleagues. I’ve discovered different techniques that I wish I had known about when I first became a manager.

I’ve put everything I’ve learned into an online course, “Managing Difficult People“. It’s a 90-minute course that is certain to help you.

Check it out. The next time you have to deal with someone who is giving you grief, you will be glad you did.

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