A Seven-Step Strategy for Dealing With Difficult People in the Workplace

Let’s be honest: even the best workplaces have some bad people working there. We’ve all encountered them – “Disruptive Dave,” “Catherine the Complainer,” the “Passive-Agressive Paul,” and “Selective Outrage Susan.” They can quickly turn a workplace from terrific to toxic. As a leader, I know you want to deal with this quickly and easily: fire them! But you know you can’t do that without serious blowback. So here is something I want you to remember: even the most challenging employees deserve a chance to shine.

Think of your team as a dynamic music group. Each member contributes a unique melody; sometimes, one instrument might be a little out of tune. The key is to identify the discord and get them in tune, not kick them out of the group. So, here’s your seven-step strategy for handling those that might be a bit tone-deaf in the workplace:

1. One-on-One Harmony:

Schedule a private conversation away from the prying eyes (and ears) of the rest of the team. Approach it with genuine curiosity, not accusatory vibes. Remember, as Maya Angelou said, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

2. Active Listening Rhythm:

Put down your phone, silence your inner monologue, and truly listen. Acknowledge their concerns, validate their feelings, and ask clarifying questions. This isn’t a monologue; it’s a duet, a chance to understand the discord from their perspective.

3. Diagnose the Dissonance:

Is it a lack of clarity about their role? Are they struggling with personal issues affecting their work in the workplace? Maybe they’re bored out of their minds, their talents underutilized. Uncover the root cause of the disharmony before attempting to get them to sing in tune.

4. Co-create the Song:

This isn’t a top-down directive; it’s a collaborative composition. Work together to find solutions that address their concerns and align with your company’s needs. Maybe they need additional training, a workload adjustment, or a chance to tackle a new challenge. Remember, as Nelson Mandela said, “A leader…is best when people barely know he exists…when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say: we did it ourselves.”

5. Give them some new Verses:

Set clear, measurable goals and expectations for improvement. Establish a communication plan to track progress and offer ongoing support in the workplace. Remember, this is a journey, not a one-time fix.

6. Positive Reinforcement:

Celebrate even small victories along the way. A simple “great job” or public recognition can go a long way in motivating continued progress in the workplace. Remember, positive reinforcement is like a great dynamic melody: When you start signing, they will follow your lead.

7. Don’t Be Afraid to Seek Help:

Sometimes, even the most skilled band leader needs assistance from a new producer. If the situation escalates or you feel out of your depth, don’t hesitate to involve HR or a professional expert. Remember, seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

Handling challenging employees can be a delicate dance, but you can transform discord into harmony with empathy, active listening, and a collaborative approach. Remember, your team is a beautiful group, and every member deserves the chance to play his or her part in the workplace band.

If you think your organization would benefit from me delivering a talk on how to address this important challenge in your organization, please contact our Director of Events, Michelle Joyce and we can explore options. Let’s work together and build workplaces where everyone thrives.

If you would like to discuss group coaching options with our team, please email us at info@antongunn.com.

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