We can all think of examples in our careers where we have put off having a conversation with a colleague who is difficult to deal with.
It’s almost impossible to go your entire working life without meeting at least one bad employee, who doesn’t perform well, has issues with other colleagues, or other colleagues don’t get on with. But having an honest conversation with a tricky employee can prove difficult and uncomfortable. Often you know you need to have them, but would rather put them off.
Here are some of our top tips to help you get to the bottom of it, and turn a tough situation into a straightforward one:
1. Listen to them
If you are dealing with a difficult employee, the chances are that they know there is an issue, so may not find the conversation a complete surprise. With this in mind, you should remain impartial and non-judgemental while venturing their point of view. Anna Skelton, senior HR business partner at Jobsite says, “We are not operating in a time when people leave their personal lives at the door anymore. Keeping an open mind when having an honest conversation with a difficult employee is paramount”.
Often there are other factors at play, and unmanageable, negative or even lazy employees may have problems in their personal lives that have spilled over into their working ones. Ask yourself: have you noticed a change in their behaviour at a particular time? Having an honest conversation is a two-way street so inviting them to tell you how they feel can open your eyes and make you view the situation differently.
2. Give clear feedback
Once you’ve invited the employee in question to air their thoughts and feelings, it is time for you to put forward your reasons for instigating this conversation. An important step before you get here is gathering feedback from other team members in order to form a clearer picture of how others deal with the difficult employee. Far from being a witch hunt, this is designed to ensure that there is consistent feedback on the employee giving you more of a consensus on their behaviour and attitude.
According to Anna Skelton, senior HR business partner at Jobsite, “It’s really important to establish the facts, be transparent and make reference to specific points when providing feedback. This makes the conversation devoid of emotional attachment and avoids you basing it on any hunches you might have.” Take some time to sit down with individuals in the team or even ask for feedback via email. It can help you to ensure your status of being impartial, taking all parties views into account. This style of ‘360 Degree Feedback’ is employed on a more regular basis by many companies, so every level of employee inputs.
3. Write down the key points
As with any meeting or interview you attend, make sure you have an agenda of points prepared that you want to cover off in the course of the conversation. This will make managing difficult employees as painless as possible, not least as you want to be able to cover everything off in one conversation.
You don’t want to do it twice! You should look to take some notes so that you can go away from the meeting and take action over the points raised. Top tip: If one of the issues is not understanding clear instructions, ask the difficult employee to send you the notes or actions following the meeting so you can see if they are taking it on board.
4. Consistency is key
Unfortunately, when you are dealing with a difficult employee, you need to be savvy in your approach as they may look to take advantage of the situation for their own gain. It is important that you are fully consistent in the messages you are giving out, including the expectations you set, the areas where you want to see improvement and the details of unacceptable behaviour. “In these situations, using specific examples of the employees conducts in order to create a strong frame of reference for them”, advises Anna Skelton, senior HR business partner at Jobsite.
Take time to reiterate your points, so there can be no confusion over what is being discussed. With the feedback you have gathered, this should be easy to achieve. If you are unsure of what message you need to give out to the employee in question, ask a colleague or superior who is removed from the situation for advice and practise running through your messages.
5. Set consequences
If you have got to the point of having an honest conversation with a difficult employee you want to ensure that there will be a resolution to the behaviour of late so you can ensure a strong working relationship going forward. Setting consequences is a fundamental part of this. This may involve being clear on what the company disciplinary policy is and what means are at your disposal – if a quiet word will no longer suffice.
You should also think about your tone and how you reflect this in your conversation. Have you booked a formal meeting room or talked over coffee? Finally, you need to know when you have reached the end. While the goal is always reaching a mutually acceptable solution, sometimes it is just not possible.
While they not be many people’s favourite part of the job, it is important to start thinking more positively about having honest conversations. If handled correctly, they can lead to swift resolution of issues effecting the morale and productivity of your team. Focus on the long term gain over the short term pain.