What Management Has Taught Me About Dealing With a Difficult Employee

There came a time when I stopped being an employee—at least, that’s what it felt like when I was promoted to management. My plan was to be a good manager; nobody really plans for less. My goal was to help the team I managed with no problems. I had never considered dealing with a different employee.

Actually, any employee can feel a little difficult from time to time, depending on the situation. But there are some that you can’t help but feel are out to get you. As I learned, managing a difficult employee is one of those things about management you can never escape.

It could be someone who’s heavily disliked in the office and thus makes collaboration impossible. Or someone who just doesn’t perform. There’s also the means well but just never does what’s expected—and a thousand more scenarios. 

If you are just getting into leading a team or managing employees, take some time to read some of the lessons I have learned when dealing with a difficult employee. 

Lessons From Dealing With A Difficult Employee

A difficult employee will hold you hostage.

Dealing with a difficult employee can feel like you’re trapped in a never-ending cycle. You spend countless hours listening to their complaints or hearing from others about their issues. It’s like you’re stuck in a revolving door, and it gets exhausting really fast.

You might even find yourself making excuses for their bad behavior or trying to fix their mistakes. It’s tough, and there will be times when you feel like throwing in the towel. But here’s the trick: you need to be smart about how you handle it.

Give the situation the attention it needs, but keep it from consuming all your time and energy. Create a strategy that helps you manage the problem while taking care of yourself.

Remember, finding a balance is important so you’re not completely drained. You lead a team, after all. By staying cautious and strategic, you can navigate through the challenges without feeling like you’re held hostage by one difficult employee.

You will have to listen to get results.

When dealing with a difficult employee, it’s easy to tune out. We get annoyed, it feels hopeless, and we’ve already made up our minds about them, so we just ignore what’s actually happening. Feeling overwhelmed is totally normal.

But the best managers know that when someone is struggling, it’s time to pay extra attention.

Listening is your secret weapon to improve the situation. By truly hearing what the employee has to say, you can understand their point of view.

Sometimes, they just need someone to talk to. Other times, you might uncover real issues that need fixing. Either way, it opens the door to finding solutions when they feel heard.

So, aim to be the kind of leader who listens, even to the tough cases. It’s not just about being nice—it’s about being effective.

By showing that you care, you can turn things around and get better results from everyone on your team.

You should never avoid giving a difficult employee honest feedback.

I used to avoid talking about a person’s negatives. It made me nervous because I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. But, I learned the hard way that if I want a difficult employee to improve, I must give them feedback on the good and the bad.

If you don’t, they’ll think they’re doing fine, and nothing will change. You’ll keep suffering, and so will the rest of the team. It’s easy to spend months grumbling about them without ever addressing the issues directly.

But it gets old fast!

Giving negative feedback is one of the most unpleasant things you’ll have to do as a manager. It’s time-consuming and can be awkward, but it’s absolutely necessary. Honest feedback helps everyone grow and prevents bigger problems down the road.

So, don’t shy away from it. Be clear, be kind, and most importantly, be honest. It’s for the good of everyone involved, including the difficult employee.

In the face of confrontation, you will forget a lot of things.

Whenever I had to confront a difficult employee, I often forgot many of the important points I needed to address. This made the problem sound watered down and less serious than it actually was. It also made me look like I chickened out on being honest.

Because of this, the difficult employee never really understood their faults or how they were impacting the team. The whole situation stayed the same because I couldn’t clearly communicate what needed to change.

I had to go through this a few times before I realized that writing down notes as issues came up or as I received complaints was helpful. Having those notes handy during the discussion made staying focused and covering all the important points easier.

So, when that tough conversation is right around the corner, take a few minutes to jot down your thoughts. It might seem like a small step, but it makes a big difference in ensuring the employee understands what needs improvement.

At some point, you will have to set consequences. 

I had never been the type to set ultimatums. Like many other uncomfortable things, it made me uneasy. I coasted through much of life, avoiding that kind of directness until I became a manager.

Then, I learned that there comes a time when you have to get specific. I realized that if a difficult employee wasn’t changing their behavior, I had to set clear consequences. It went from “I still believe you can change this” to “If I don’t see changes by this date, here’s what will happen.”

This shift was necessary. Sometimes, a problematic employee must understand that their behavior will negatively affect them if they don’t change. You’re not being mean; you’re being clear and fair.

Setting consequences helps everyone understand the stakes and the expectations. It’s uncomfortable, yes, but it’s necessary for real improvement. Being specific and firm can create a path for positive change and a better working environment for the whole team.

Turning Challenges into Opportunities

Dealing with a difficult employee isn’t easy, but it’s a chance for growth—for you and your team. Remember, don’t let them hold you hostage. Listen carefully to get results.

Never avoid giving feedback, even when it’s tough. Write down your points to stay on track during confrontations. And when necessary, set clear consequences.

By following these lessons, you can turn a challenging situation into an opportunity for improvement. It’s all about being a smart, attentive, and confident leader.

Keep these tips in mind, and you’ll be better equipped to handle any tough employee that comes your way.

About Author
About Author

Waithira Njagi is a seasoned wellness and relationship content writer with nearly a decade of experience. Her passion for helping others navigate the complexities of personal growth and connection shines through in her engaging and insightful writing.
With a knack for distilling complex topics into easily digestible pieces, Waithira's work is geared toward readers seeking guidance and inspiration on their journey to holistic well-being.
When she's not crafting engaging articles, you can find Waithira curled up with a stack of romance novels– always rooting for love to win– or enjoying quality time with her beloved family. Her dedication to spreading love and positivity is evident in everything she creates.

Waithira is here to remind you that life, much like their stories, is a tapestry of connections - to loved ones, and the endless adventures found in books.

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