What do you think is the most discussed topic in my coaching sessions with executives? In addition to the self-management of the executive, there are difficult employees.
Often there are only one or two employees from the team who are classified as difficult. But what does that actually mean: difficult? What distinguishes a difficult employee?
Then there are a multitude of answers from the bosses, e.g: The difficult employee does not do what you want him to do. He is demotivated, he does not produce results, he is lazy, cheeky, he intrigues or he spreads bad mood.
The own estimation
Well, that’s all the boss’s assessment. This is how the employee, his results or his behaviour affect him. So first of all this is his personal opinion about the employee. It’s the boss’s point of view.
In principle, if you feel someone is difficult, it has something to do with you.
This does not mean that you always have to change or that it is only up to you. But at least it’s good to start by questioning yourself and analysing exactly what bothers you and why you think the employee is difficult.
Ask yourself the right questions!
So ask yourself questions like:
- What exactly bothers me about the employee?
- When does it bother me?
- Is it his behaviour? For example the way he communicates, how he deals with you, with colleagues or with customers?
- Or does he not deliver the required performance?
- Does he not achieve the required goals? Does he not follow the rules?
- Does his misconduct always occur or only in certain situations?
A statement like
“The employee is cheeky.”
is very general. That is something that needs to be questioned more closely.
So take your time to sit down and write down in detail what bothers you, why it bothers you and when it occurs. Describe as specifically as possible and give precise examples.
- When did the employee behave impertinently?
- To whom?
- How exactly does this insolence manifest itself?
- Do you believe that others would also call this behaviour cheeky?
- Is there a trigger for this?
- What could be the reason for the behaviour?
- All these questions help you to decide whether and how you can or should react to the disturbing behaviour.
Today I would like to introduce you to some types of difficult employees and give you tips on how to deal with them successfully – without losing your nerve, being frustrated or even shying away from working with the difficult employee.
The difficult employee who constantly disagrees!
Sometimes you have someone in your team who questions everything or at least much of what you propose or represent. It is the employee who often takes a counter-position to you.
You present the new strategy A and he questions it, takes your strategy apart and asks why strategy B is not adopted.
In the positive form of this type, we are actually dealing not with a difficult but with an exhausting employee. He is a very valuable employee.
Yes, he is of a different opinion to you. Maybe he is even cheeky and maybe he even represents his opinion in a way that you sometimes find inappropriate or presumptuous. In short, it’s exhausting with him.
Strenuous does not necessarily mean difficult!
But he is committed and motivated. He is convinced of his opinion and that’s why he doesn’t keep his opinion behind the scenes. He dares to take the opposite position, even if he stands alone – also towards the boss, i.e. you. He dares to give Contra because he is convinced that this serves the cause.
Having such an employee may be exhausting or annoying, but it is valuable. You don’t want to be surrounded by yes-men, do you? Be grateful for those employees who can hold a mirror up to you and serve as a corrective for you.
It becomes difficult when this employee does not understand when it is over, when he has to accept that you have made a decision.
When does an exhausting employee become a difficult one?
It becomes difficult when you now need his support and demand it, for example for your strategy A, even though he has advocated strategy B. How he behaves now makes the difference whether he is strenuous in a positive sense or difficult in a negative sense.
The negative aspect of this type then insists on further discussion – even to the point of unintelligibly arguing against it. It does not accept partout your last decision.
He does not understand or accept your role in the hierarchy. Often he does not want to be forced to do something – from his point of view – wrong. He is an exhausting employee who gets out of hand.
That’s how you react:
You should make it clear to such an employee that you value his commitment, his opinion and his arguments. You should ask him to continue to take an open counterposition to you in the group, but only until you have decided.
Talk to him and explain to him: There is a time of discussion, of decision making and a time after the decision.
If you have discussed as a boss, have heard the arguments of your employees, have formed such a comprehensive opinion and then decide, then you can expect the employee to accept your decision. You can expect him to respect your decision and not torpedo it, e.g. by constantly questioning it in front of others and thus undermining your authority.
You have the role of the boss and the final decision. After all, you have to be accountable and take responsibility.
The employee with a lack of critical ability
Type 2 of the difficult employee is characterized by the fact that he rejects any criticism of his person. If something goes wrong, someone else is always to blame. Even if this employee has obviously made a mistake, he negates it with words like “how”:
“Yes, something went wrong, but it’s not my fault, because…”
He rejects all guilt. Even if his colleagues or you criticize him even very cautiously, he pretends that this criticism is completely unjustified and is an attack on his person.
Behind this lack of critical ability is usually fear and a low self-esteem.
How do you deal with such an employee?
If you want to achieve something with him – namely insight – then you must behave in such a way that he is not afraid of you. You must make sure that you do not attack his low self-esteem, otherwise he will automatically close. Avoid anything that could unnecessarily undermine his self-esteem.
It is especially important for an employee with a lack of critical ability to observe the feedback rules one hundred percent. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t criticize him – but with him it depends very much on how you give constructive feedback.
Never do it in public. Avoid exposing him to others. Express criticism only under 4 eyes.
Show him that you value his person and his work. Explain to him that mistakes may be made.
But also tell him that it is crucial to stand up for one’s own mistakes, take responsibility and learn from them – and that you expect him to think about it.
It’s about trust!
But all this is useless if he does not trust you. Only then will you have the chance that he will not only listen to your criticism, but will also think about it and perhaps come to admit to faulty behaviour over time.
You can already tell from my formulation: It takes time. The insight as well as the change of behaviour.
Why? Well, on the one hand you have to get the trust of your employee. Otherwise you won’t get to him at all. He doesn’t really listen to you because he is in a defensive position towards you. He will only give it up if he has confidence in you.
And secondly, it takes time to reflect on yourself and to have the courage to admit to your own small mistakes. If he realizes that admitting mistakes does not automatically lead to negative consequences, then you have a good chance that over time he will change his behavior and become more open to criticism.