Everyone in business has encountered and dealt with a difficult employee—they’re unavoidable, and often unforgettable. They complain about every task given to them, talk back, exude constant negativity, gossip excessively about coworkers, and overall, bring the company down as a whole. Unfortunately, bad hires happen, and firing isn’t always the optimal solution. So how do you deal before losing your temper? OPEN Forum experts share their experiences and lessons learned.
They key to dealing with these types of office people is how you communicate with them. “The hardest part is figuring out what to say to them so you can get what you want without being a jerk,” says Lawrence Polsky. He suggests sticking to the four F words: fight, friend, face and forget. “Remember, the most important factor in choosing the right F word is figuring out how important the situation is. The more important it is to you, lean toward fight or face. If the issue is more important to them, just friend 'em. Lastly, if it is not so important, just forget it,” he says.
Sometimes it’s just not worth the fight. “I can tell you from personal experience that sometimes relieving a difficult employee from duty may be just as advantageous as hiring a new star,” says Robert Basso. So if you’ve tried communicating and correcting the behavior and there’s still no change, cut ties—everyone in your company will be happier. After Basso let go of his trouble-maker “you could literally feel the cloud of negativity lift from our small operation.” Here, he shares more benefits.
As easy of a solution as it may seem, you never want to fire people. “As a business owner with managerial accountabilities—directly supervising employees or overseeing a manager in charge—you want to lead, develop and empower people,” says Julie Rains. But how can you make it work with someone who is a constant struggle? For starters, Rains says to “Keep interactions positive and instructive, conveying expectations, educating on policies, explaining nuances of the business, and modeling appropriate interactions with customers and vendors.”
A 2007 poll conducted by the Employment Law Allegiance revealed that a whopping 45 percent of American workers have experienced abuse in the workplace. Stanford professor Robert Sutton warns that difficult co-workers not only reduce productivity, but they can also result in well-qualified, super-star employees leaving the company. To identify these people, Sutton says to ask these questions: After talking to this colleague, do you feel oppressed, humiliated, de-energized or just bad about yourself? Does this colleague usually target people who are less powerful rather than those people who are more powerful? He also offers insightful tips for avoiding these office jerks.
Bullying doesn’t apply solely to kids in the sandbox—it applies to the workplace as well. A recent CareerBuilder survey found that 27 of works have felt bullied in the office. “Today’s myriad of communication methods and the fast pace of the workplace can easily escalate bullying,” says Anita Campbell. But the question still stands: what should you do about it?
“Creating a protocol requiring employees to report problems to HR doesn’t mean a thing if you don’t deal with the problems,” says Campbell. “As the business owner, the best way for you to stop bullying is by being present in your business. Manage by walking around—see what people are doing, how they’re interacting. Talk to them regularly and watch how they relate to one another.”