5 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Staff Relationships

By Heather Campbell

By Heather Campbell >>

One of the most challenging aspects of leadership in the workplace is dealing with difficult staff. Rather than facing the discomfort of the tough conversations that this usually entails, many managers choose to ignore a person’s poor behaviour – such as bad time-keeping, laziness, disrespect or antagonism – in the vain hope that it will disappear in time.

But we all know that this won’t happen; instead it leads to a negative atmosphere in the office, with underperformance on the part of at least one individual, and growing frustration amongst others affected.

So, rather than leaving things to fester, get on and deal with it. Effective communication is the answer here.

The steps to handling difficult staff

1. Be focused >> Annoyance or frustration with a difficult staff member can easily lead to clouded judgement. As the problem apparently deepens, so it seems that the person is just plain and simple Difficult, with a capital D.

But few people are difficult in every way, or completely negative. As a manager, you need to focus on what specifically is difficult about a person’s behaviour.  Only then will it be possible to have an appropriately targeted discussion.

And always remember to offer praise for positive behaviour, while aiming to find a coherent solution to overcoming the difficulty.

2. Avoid exaggerating >> Is the staff member ALWAYS late for meetings? Does the individual NEVER let you finish speaking? Are they unfriendly to EVERY colleague? It is important to be fair and just in your dealings with difficult behaviour.

Notice when an individual displays the difficult behaviour, and when they don’t.  Exploring what causes the behaviour sometimes, and what prevents it happening at other times, can be a good way to open up powerful insights for everyone involved.

3. There is good in bad >> Does the person’s “difficult behaviour” actually produce some good results? For example, the permanent pessimist often draws a manager’s attention to risks that the optimists overlooked. A worker who is slower than others to complete a task may actually be more thorough and professional.

Remember that there isn’t just one way to reach a business goal, and an office needs a range of people with different talents, so it is a good idea to reconsider whether the perceived “difficult behaviour” is a bonus in some ways.

If you appreciate the benefits the person brings, you are far more likely to approach the conversation in a constructive way.

4. Don’t make it personal >> Ensure that the person’s difficult behaviour is actually causing a problem that needs to be resolved. Sometimes someone else’s “difficult” behaviour is simply behaviour that we don’t like.

It’s vital that you take an objective view on a person’s behaviour and not allow your judgement to be clouded by personal dislikes.

5. Know when to call it a day >> If you are sitting down to address the same difficulties with an individual for the third or fourth time, it’s probably time to accept you aren’t going to find a way forward.  Avoid blaming yourself or the other person – sometimes there simply isn’t a sustainable solution that will work for both of you.

Have you experienced difficult staff situations and worked out ways to resolve them peacefully and effectively? Why not tell us how you dealt with the problem. Or tell us about difficult behaviour that you are currently facing. We will always answer your comments.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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