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4 Steps for Dealing with a Difficult Employee

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When it comes to our organizations, we all know the importance of employee engagement. But we aren’t perfect and there will come a time when you clash with an employee. Do you know what steps to take?

No matter how carefully we hire or how much time and effort we spend cultivating highly engaged employees, there’s bound to be a time when a difficult employee comes along and disrupts the workflow. When dealing with a problematic employee, it’s best to address the issue head on. However, coaching conversations can be difficult, and even more so if you’re dealing with an employee who tends to not be receptive to feedback. That’s where communication skills can come in handy, as Jack Klemeyer explained in a post.

Because the ability to communicate in depth with other humans is one of our most distinguished privileges, we should never take that ability for granted. Instead, we should do all we can to increase our ability to have good conversation with the people around us. Think about all of the opportunities you have each day to engage another human being in conversation. You can talk to rocks, trees, or your favorite stuffed animal for as long as you want and you will never get a response. Saying something as simple as “hello” to another person can elicit a response.

This situation doesn’t have to ruin you. Overcoming this challenge is possible. Here are four ways you can ensure that your coaching conversation will go smoothly.


© Flickr user combust.

Define the Situation

Without a careful, strategic approach, there’s a real risk that your coaching conversation will fall on deaf ears. Instead, take a focused approach by presenting the facts first. Rather than launching immediately into a coaching session, it can be helpful to first simply state the facts of the situation. For example, you could say, “I’ve received some negative feedback from clients. Here’s what they had to say…” Providing concrete examples of the problem sets the stage for open dialogue based on facts rather than emotions.

Ask to Hear Their Side

Before writing off an employee as “problematic” or “not a good fit,” it’s always beneficial to take the time to hear their side of the story. Not only does this set a productive tone, it helps ensure that your employee isn’t immediately on the defensive. This isn’t just a formality — you’re likely to get new, valuable information that can help you determine your next steps. Taking a respectful, progressive approach to employee discipline is often the missing piece to successfully overcoming performance issues.

Clarify the Consequences

Whatever the offense, oftentimes your employee may not truly understand how harmful their actions can be. Once you’ve clearly identified the issue, explain why this behavior should be changed. This often means elaborating on the potential, negative consequences both for the employee and the organization. Presenting a bigger picture of the issue at hand may be the wake-up call your employee needs.

Set Specific Expectations for Change

Coaching conversations all have the same end goal – change. And, as leaders, it’s our job to make sure we provide our employees with the tools they need to make it happen. Set specific, measurable guidelines for improvement and determine a timeline for improvements to be made. With clear expectations in place, you can confidently schedule a follow-up meeting to gauge their progress. Ultimately your employee will determine their own fate, but you can rest easy knowing you’ve provided the tools needed to succeed.

Above benefits packages and other perks, employees want to feel that you’re listening. After all, it’s hard for your team to stay engaged if they don’t feel valued. And, while coaching conversations can be difficult and even downright uncomfortable, they can also provide you with the perfect opportunity to speak candidly with your staff. Coaching conversations could not only make you a stronger leader, they can also be a great way to strengthen your team and ultimately your organization.

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Emily Tisdale
Emily D. Tisdale is the Founder and Principal Consultant of Recourse Resource Consulting, a healthcare experience consulting firm based out of Indianapolis, Indiana. Emily and her team supports healthcare organizations in achieving sustainable results focused on patient experience, employee engagement, and marketing.
Emily Tisdale


Biz Owner (Radius10, LLC + Recourse Resource) • Wife + Mom | Mixing life + work on this previously work-only account because, well, I want to👩🏻‍💻
At-home date night watching @KevinHart4real’s Zero F**cks Given and I. Am. Dying. 🤣 👏🏼👏🏼👏🏼 - 8 months ago
Emily Tisdale
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