It’s not me it’s you: coping with the difficult person on your team

Wednesday, July 8, 2015 - 14:56

By AIM Faculty Jan Burnes

No you’re not imagining it. There are some people who can brighten a room just by leaving it!

However, according to experts such as Dr Robert Bramson, author of the book, “Dealing with Difficult People” over 90 percent of workers want to do a good job and get on well with others. If you’re reading this, a member of the minority is probably causing you some grief. Some problems exist and as a manager, you need to try and work things out.

It might simply be a personality clash or your employee may have some problems that need to be worked out. Even if it is “their problem” you must take ownership of finding a solution. Letting the situation remain unresolved may have a contagious effect on the rest of your staff members.

Try to recall past conversations with your problem employee. What was the tone your meetings like? Were you highly critical and quick to point out mistakes in the person’s work? Were tensions high and emotions running at fever pitch? Maybe not each and every time….but be honest now, didn’t just a little bit of that exist?

Children in adult’s bodies

As a supervisor you will quickly learn (if you haven’t already) that difficult staff members are just like children – nothing more than little people in big people’s bodies; and, just like children, they tend to live up to our expectations of them. Therefore, if we are always critical and complaining, they will continue to act in a way to give rise to criticism. They often misbehave for the intended purpose of attracting attention. If they can’t get attention with positive behaviour, they begin to act improperly to get their pay-off.

Conversely, if we praise and recognise them, they seem to blossom and grow – even if they were a “little stinker” before! Give the employee a “quick fix” by giving reassurance of their ability. Chances may be the person lacks the confidence needed to keep up with others in the team. A kind, reassuring word from the boss may be just the boost needed to get over some hurdles.

It may be that the employee is just overwhelmed with the amount of work that needs to be done. Schedules, deadlines, new technology and the like can get pretty frightening at times. Be there, to provide the encouragement needed.

Be prepared for one more possibility. You may not like hearing this, but it just might be that this person doesn’t like you. In fact, this person might not like their colleagues either. Some people just don’t seem to like anyone!

This is extremely frustrating for the supervisor who works hard to develop a sense of team spirit and camaraderie amongst the staff.

Its results that count

Don’t lose sight of your long-term goal. Getting the work out is what counts. Be willing to accept the other person’s feelings as long as this doesn’t interfere with your work, the work of others and the overall results of your team. Its not required that you like someone or be liked in return, in order to get the job done. This is difficult to accept if you are a high “Relater” personality type.

Put your personal feelings about this person aside for a moment. Check with others to get a feel for the mood in the department along with their attitudes about this particular person. What would happen if you did nothing further? Sometimes in difficult situations, the “cure” can be worse than the complaint – the hardest thing to do is nothing.

There’s always one…

An example of this came about four weeks after I hired a new receptionist. She used to put all my incoming faxes on my desk first thing in the morning – still in the long continuous roll as they had emerged from the fax machine. This made extra work for me, as I had to cut and separate the individual faxes, collate them and staple them together.

I approached the young woman, feeling quite agitated and requested that in future she would please staple my incoming faxes together. The following morning there was the usual pile of faxes but this time she had stapled all of them together by putting the staples round every edge of the pages!

You need to decide if you and the rest of your team could continue to “live with it” and work with this person? How has this employee affected team morale and team productivity? When these last two points become an issue, it is time to do something about it – and fast! This situation, more than any other you may face as a supervisor, calls for immediate and decisive action.

Difficult employees can be among the most trying of management challenges. Its not easy to get maximum productivity out of your people and maintain a satisfied, loyal workforce. But it is these twin goals that lie at the heart of good management.

A former Telstra Business Woman of the Year and owner of a business employing over 1,000 people, Jan Burnes MBA, has fifteen years’ experience helping organisations achieve their objectives through structured mentoring and coaching programs.

If you’re looking to develop effective techniques for communicating with your team, AIM’s Assertiveness Techniques short course will provide you with personal insight into the ways in which you respond to different people, situations and events. With a strong focus on communication and behaviour, it gives you tools and techniques to effectively manage your responses and express your views and plans.