Handling Difficult Behaviours

People with negative emotions have a much greater chance of experiencing negative stress and distress and are more likely to experience dissatisfaction with their lives and jobs. Some of the results of negativity include increased absenteeism, use of medical benefits and, in many cases, can result in lowered productivity and happiness. By learning how to cope with negativity (both from self and others), individuals are more likely to find their life and work more satisfying and productive.

If an organization has negative customer service employees, these employees are likely to lose customers for the company. The loss of one customer a day for a year who typically spends $50 per week would cost a company nearly 1/2 million dollars a year. This is only the financial loss. What about the loss of emotional energy, self-confidence, and morale that was wasted in the process?

A difficult employee is someone who does not fully meet the performance standards of his or her job, as needed by the organization, and especially by the manager. A difficult employee is not necessarily a bad person, but someone whose level of performance creates a problem.

In fact, you may have been a problem employee at one time or another. Many if not most, employees, including managers, have times when they are not doing something as well as their bosses need or expect. Remember, when this situation occurs, a potential problem employee is not necessarily a bad person.

Your goal is to take the problem out if the employee, not to take out the employee. Termination is the quickest way to solve an immediate performance problem. Turnover, especially when done in the abrupt manner, is extremely costly. Here are some of the major costs to an organization from this kind of turnover.

• Time, money to recruit & hire new employee
• Re-training to bring new employee up-to-speed
• Salary and benefit cost already paid out to terminated employee
• Unemployment compensation & severance pay
• Damage to morale of remaining employees
• Possible wrongful termination lawsuit

Difficult employees come in varying degrees, from relatively simple to very difficult. The following is a description of the most common types or degrees of difficult employees:
New employee Inconsistent employee
Unbalanced employee Mediocre employee
Marginal employee Intolerable employee

As a manager, the longer you wait to address a performance problem, the harder it will be to deal with it constructively and the worse the problem becomes. Employees do not start out as marginal or intolerable performers. Most often, they grow into these more severe problem employees when little corrective effort was made at the time performance was inconsistent, unbalanced or becoming mediocre.

In the 1980s, wrongful termination lawsuits became a fairly common practice, with employers losing many more cases than they won. The 1990s have reaffirmed the highly competitive economic climate we live in. In today’s business world, in the public sector as in the private sector, managers, more than ever, need to effectively manage the performance of their people.

Recognizing the important management responsibility, and understanding what constitutes a problem or difficult employee, are requisites for successfully resolving performance problems and achieving positive results.


When dealing with people, be ready to react to the actions of different personalities. Some examples:

• Dealing with the aggressor, who is intimidating, hostile and loves to threaten.

• What to do: Listen to everything the person has to say. Avoid arguments and be formal, calling the person by name. Be concise and clear with your reactions.

• Dealing with the underminer, who takes pride in criticism and is sarcastic and devious.

• What to do: Focus on the issues and don’t acknowledge sarcasm. Don’t overreact.

• Dealing with the unresponsive person, who is difficult to talk to and never reveals his or her ideas.

• What to do: Ask open-ended questions and learn to be silent-waiting for the person to say something. Be patient and friendly.

• Dealing with the egotist, who knows it all and feels and acts superior.

What to do: Make sure you know the facts. Agree when possible and ask questions and listen. Disagree only when you know you’re right.

Source: Business Marketing Reference
Manual, by Tom Lapham, 160 Farmington
Ave., Bristol, CT 06010.

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