Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #4
6 steps for managing ‘difficult’ employees
Working alongside difficult people can be hard enough. But managing someone with whom you have a personality clash can cause major tension.
Experienced managers know how to separate emotions from the work at hand when dealing with employees. Rather than dwelling on an employee’s negative personality traits, smart managers focus on tasks, projects and results. They don’t allow their personal feelings to interfere, and they treat everyone the same way.
But in too many cases, managers simply turn away from their least favorite employees. Rather than interacting with them, they avoid them. What’s worse, managers may just write off the problem employees and do the employees’ jobs themselves.
Turning your back on difficult employees isn’t just a management mistake—it can also create legal trouble. That’s because employees who frequently bump heads with management are also the ones most likely to file lawsuits when they feel they’re being treated unfairly.
That’s why, when confronted with employees who don’t do what’s asked, it’s best to devise a strategy for making the best of a potentially explosive situation.
Although it may be hard to transform a difficult employee into a warm, friendly ally, there are several steps you can take to make it easier for the employee to comply.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #5
The 5 common myths about workplace conflict
- Conflict is always negative and should be avoided at work. Quite the contrary. When problems are hidden or masked, they aren’t solved. They fester and grow into bigger problems. Conflict has to be acknowledged and addressed.
- Difficult people are almost always the cause of conflict. While bad behavior is certainly a contributing cause of conflict, failing to set realistic expectations is a big contributor. If people don’t understand what the organization, their manager or their teammates expect, confusion and conflict can result.
- The problem at the root of a conflict is usually obvious. Problem solving is central to managing conflict, but the problem can’t be solved until it’s identified. Getting to the source involves dialogue, conversations and some detective work.
- In conflict, there are always winners and losers. A position is a stand we take in a negotiation or conflict. It is what we demand from the other person. Interests are what we really want—our needs, desires and concerns. When positions become the focus of the conflict, the problem can get covered up along with any solution. Focusing on interests, rather than positions is more effective. Think about your interest and then separate your position from your interest.
- It’s a manager’s responsibility to fix problems on her team. Unless a problem involves behavior or performance that needs to be addressed, a manager doesn’t necessarily own it—the employees do. When managers intervene and exert authority, employees miss the opportunity to develop their own conflict management skills. Employees need the freedom and authority solve problems that relate to their work.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #6
You may be a bully and not even know it
Four things that make you monster lite, but nonetheless repulsive:
- Your sarcasm has a nip to it. You think you’re funny and witty with clever one-liners that distinguish you from your workers. After all, we all need a good laugh now and then. But the recipient of a sarcastic crack thinks you’re treating him or her like an imbecile. Sarcasm has no place in the workplace, especially from a boss who holds sway over others’ livelihoods.
- You’re tougher on submissive employees. It’s human nature: You’re less likely to push, prod or pressure someone who has a bit of a backbone. So in order to flex your supervisory muscle, you’re a little more demanding on the meek. It’s easier to bark an order when you know you won’t get any resistance. This act of who to pick on, who to leave alone doesn’t need to be overt to be sensed by employees. They will catch on and see you as a coward—the cornerstone of a bully.
- You have all the answers. The matriculation into management doesn’t automatically give you unquestioning knowledge and foresight. In fact, there’s more you need to learn, namely humility. It’s an insecure boss—or a narcissistic one—who won’t admit that he’s stumped, that he doesn’t have all the answers his employees seek. There’s no quicker way to turn off your employees than by shooting down their ideas and suggestions because you know it all. The results are that employees will clam up in front of you, but will open up behind your back, criticizing your pompous ways.
- You develop a “you’re an idiot” chuckle. There’s a certain forced laugh some bosses use before spewing their wisdom or points of view. For the boss, it may be just a habit, but the employee hears a dismissive, belittling chuckle that tells him or her that what you say after that should not be challenged.
Workplace Conflict Resolution: Tip #7
Read the clues when confronting a worker
Here are some ways employees react when in confrontational situations, and how you can respond.
Silence. This worker is plugged into what you’re saying, so don’t mistake him for a dismissive stoic. There’s a good chance he’s afraid to say anything that might provoke some discipline. Your response: Carefully word your questions and comments to loosen him up. Once you get him to talk, assure him that you’re there to help, not punish.
Tears. You’re dealing with a fragile worker who was likely taken by surprise that she wasn’t up to snuff. Your response: Be sympathetic, but don’t join the pity party. Back off a bit until she composes herself. Tell her it’s not the end of the world (and certainly not her job), and the two of you are meeting to correct things.
Laughter. Don’t assume he thinks the whole thing is a joke. Often, people let out a nervous giggle as a defense mechanism; he’s scared and concerned. Your response: Never laugh with him. Remain serious and speak firmly, but don’t overreact to his chuckles. He will stop once he senses your commitment to helping him recognize and correct his ways.
Anger. “Who? Me? You are so wrong.” She is ready to jump out of her seat to defend herself; to let you know the whole meeting is unwarranted and you’re off the mark. She doesn’t feel she’s responsible for the problem you’ve presented. Your response: Keep your cool, and she’ll tone it down once you firmly explain in detail the problems she’s caused. Focus on facts. With her, you can’t be vague.
Apologies. His eyes are cast down, and he lifts them only to keep saying “I’m sorry.” He appears humble and submissive and is probably hoping that his apologies will get him off the hook. Your response: Be wary of the sincerity. But as long as he’s agreeing to the problem, focus on the solution and get a commitment from him to cooperate.