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pictureIt seems that we can rely upon US Presidential candidate, Donald Trump, to provide us with outrageous and often offensive statements.  But can you imagine what it would be like to manage such a personality?

It seems that almost no workplace is without their very own Donal Trump personality.  Leaving an anonymous note in a person’s locker is not really a productive option, but confronting a difficult person in public can often lead to disaster. Let us consider some practical ways that an employer can productively manage difficult people in the workplace.

Examine Yourself – Are you sure that the employee is really the problem?  Have you always experienced difficulty dealing with the same type of person or actions?  We all have buttons that are easily pushed, is this person really difficult or is the person just able to push the wrong buttons for you?

Communication – Approach the difficult employee for a private, informal conversation.  Keep cool, build rapport, be pleasant and agreeable, as the difficult employee may not even be aware of the impact of their behaviour and may only be learning about it for the first time.   However, they may also know the impact of their behaviour, deny it or just try to explain it away. Unfortunately, some difficult people just don’t care. During the conversation, attempt to reach agreement about positive and supportive actions.

Listen – Often when an employee is difficult we stop listening to what is actually going on. Feelings of irritation, anger, avoidance and frustration are human nature. But clearly understanding the situation and knowing the employee’s point of view gives you the best opportunity to improve the situation.  By actively listening you may find they have a legitimate issue which could be solved just by giving the employee an opportunity to be heard.

Give Clear Feedback – Giving tough feedback can be one of the most uncomfortable and difficult things an employer has to do.  Lowering a person’s defensiveness and tactfully giving a difficult employee the specific information they need in order to improve is a skill of great managers.

Lead by Example – It is human nature for employees to look at how you act and how other employees are treated.  If you are telling an employee their behaviour is a problem, do not accept the same behaviour from other employees.  Otherwise, you are condoning such behaviour and the difficult employee will inevitably pick up on it.  There is only one set of standards for everyone, including yourself.

Consequences – If a difficult employee believes their behaviour will not have any real impact on them, why would they change?  Don’t threaten for the sake of threatening.  But effectively articulated consequences can give pause to the difficult employee and may compel them to shift from obstruction to cooperation.

Document Everything – Where there is a problem with a difficult employee, always document everything. Documentation is not negative, it is prudent.  If you solve the issue you can always put the documentation back in a filing cabinet and forget about it. Many companies try to formally discipline an employee but the paperwork contradicts their allegations and portrays the employee as the perfect worker.

Don’t Gossip – All too often managers will exacerbate issues by bad-mouthing the difficult employee to everyone else rather than addressing the problem. This builds a culture of distrust and back-stabbing and pollutes other people’s perception of the difficult employee.  It also makes you look unprofessional.

Don’t take it Personally – Dealing with difficult people is easier when the person is just generally obnoxious, or when their behaviour affects more than one person. Dealing with difficult people can be much tougher when they are attacking you.  How you deal with this will depend on your own self-esteem, self-confidence and professional courage.

Go Formal – If all else fails you may have to go down the formal disciplinary route.  Likewise, if a formal complaint about a difficult employee has been received, the Company’s dignity-at-work process must be enacted.

Failure by an employer to deal effectively and reasonably with a difficult employee may lead to claims before the Workplace Relations Commission or the Courts for personal injury, negligence, breach of contract, unfair dismissal, harassment or even constructive dismissal.

The better prepared and trained you and your team are, the lower the risk of you falling foul of the law. If you have any questions regarding managing difficult people in the workplace, call Keith Connolly on 056-770 1 060 or email

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