This article was originally posted on Great Leadership by Dan on September 3, 2020
We’ve all been challenged with at least one difficult person at work. Why do they have to be so rude, dismissive, abrasive, etc.? Difficult employees aren’t the person who has a bad day and acts out in appropriately, they are the ones who have gained a reputation for being difficult.
And, if they are spreading their bad behavior to others and having a negative impact on the team, then they are more than difficult, they are toxic.
Why are they so difficult? This is the first question that you need to ask yourself. Experience has shown me that there is often an underlying reason for the person’s unwanted behavior. Schedule 1-1 time with the employee, as soon as you notice a pattern of bad behavior. Not addressing the behavior in a timely manner is just an initiation for more of the same thing.
Get curious first. Is it the job? Is it a personal issue? Are there team members that are causing stress? Or, is it just who they are?
If you find that there is a reason behind their behavior and not just their personality, then it’s time to help.
Once you understand the underlying reason for your employee’s bad behavior then it’s time to coach. Coaching your difficult employee to understand the impact they have on others and themselves is your first step to mitigating the problem behavior. The next step is getting them to commit to change and taking action.
Explore with them how their behavior is impacting them and their performance by asking these questions during a 1-1 meeting:
How do you think people react when you are __________ to them?
How can their reactions to you potentially impact you negatively?
How does this this behavior show up outside of work?
How does this behavior help you?
What triggers this behavior? A person, a task, a situation?
What do you think will happen if you continue to behave this way?
Once they agree that their behavior isn’t benefitting them or others around them, then it’s time for them to put a plan together to change. Ask these questions:
What steps can you take to decrease this behavior?
How would you know these steps are working?
When do you plan on resolving the situation?
How committed are you to changing on a scale of 1-10?
What would it take to increase your commitment by 1 point?
For some individuals, asking questions to get them to self-reflect may not be enough. This is when you have to give your feedback to them. Give them concrete examples in a timely manner of what you’ve observed. A great technique to use is by starting with “Can I share an observation with you?” I have never had someone answer no to this question. And answering yes gives you permission to share your feedback.
Define for them what behavior is acceptable moving forward, what changes need to occur with measurable goals. Then jointly create a development plan with a specific timeline. I recommend a 30-60-90 day plan. You want to see some immediate small changes that will incrementally become larger over time. Be prepared to have additional 1-1 meetings with the person during this time.
Explain the Consequences
Once you have coached and provided then with direct feedback, they need to understand the consequences of not meeting their commitment. Generally, a loss is more of a motivator than a gain. Determine what will motivate them. Is it a loss of privileges to work remotely, an upcoming bonus, or rescinding a high-profile project?
There will be some people that either can’t or won’t change their bad behaviors and you need to be prepared to part ways with them. Make sure in these cases that you document all the conversations, so you have established a pattern of behavior and the steps taken to address the situation, and the employee’s failure to change.
And remember through all of this, that dealing with negative employees can distract you from more important issues. Don’t spend all your time and energy on the difficult person, just enough to know that you provided the person with the opportunity to make the needed changes. If you ultimately let the employee go, don’t look back. Just learn from your experience.