I know someone who regularly complained about a person at his office who was challenging to get along with. He was considering a new job. I warned him that each job has workers who exhibit the same kinds of behavior. People are people. Some are great, and some are difficult. It is up to managers not to ignore bad behavior.
People have been trying to figure out why people behave in certain ways for thousands of years. Hippocrates theorized that certain moods and behaviors were caused by too much (or too little) bodily fluids. The Greek physician tried to track blood, yellow bile, black bile, and phlegm as a way of understanding people.
Since that time, the behaviors of people have been researched by psychologists, and we are beginning to see certain patterns in people. That understanding can help managers deal with employees who exhibit certain characteristics.
Take, for example, the worker who always seems unhappy. If you pay close attention, you can see some early warning signs. They include increased absenteeism, a decline in the quality of the person’s work, a higher level of complaints, and even a change in appearance or personal hygiene. You need to figure out what triggered this type of behavior. That means you have to have a private conversation with the unhappy employee and tell them what you observe, and ask them to share what caused this dramatic change. You might be able to address their concerns or respond to rumors they are worried about. They may be dealing with something at home, at which point you can refer them to your organization’s employee assistance program.
Now let’s say you have someone on your staff who is argumentative. Some people think it is a sport to argue and disagree with others. Researchers tell us that it is sometimes a defense mechanism by someone who wants to demonstrate knowledge when all they are doing is expressing an opinion. Explain to the person what you are observing and why their behavior is disruptive to the department.
It is possible that the troublesome employee may be unaware that their behavior is disrupting the workplace. By pointing out specific examples of such behavior and discussing them, a previously problematic employee may be able to amend their behavior in the future. Being aware of the disruptive behavior can sometimes be enough to mitigate it altogether. Also, in discussing the issue with the employee, you may find an underlying cause leading them to act out in the workplace. Let the person know you are always open to questions but that you need to set boundaries. Discuss what those boundaries might be.
What if your challenging employee is a grand-stander? This is the person who is a show-off and likes to take credit for every accomplishment. This person craves attention and is likely not aware of how he is perceived. With a person like this, you may have to describe what you have observed and how it is being perceived by others. Make it clear that his reputation is being hurt by the way he is viewed. His ego may prevent him from agreeing immediately, which is why you will likely need follow-up every time you notice an outburst.
Those are just four of the problematic personality types you are likely to encounter. There are others. There is the person who is afraid to make a decision, the person who can’t accept criticism and may even cry, or someone who is so disorganized that they lose track of meaningful work.
I’ve looked at the research on how you can most effectively deal with each personality type. That’s in lesson 3 of my online course, “Managing Difficult People.” Sooner or later, we all have to deal with workers who cause issues. This 90-minute seminar will provide you the knowledge and confidence to deal with problem workers. Click HERE for more information.