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  • Jonno White

35 Vital Steps To Prepare For Conflict With A Difficult Employee

1. Consider Your Role In The Problem


Think about how you might have contributed to the problem. Ask yourself if there is something you could have done differently that would have helped the situation. The worst leads lack self-awareness or refuse to confront their blind spots. Confront yourself before you confront a difficult employee.


2. Develop A Plan


Develop a plan by thinking of what needs to be done. Write down the steps and set goals to reach them. Be organized, take action, and make sure you stay on track with your plan. If you're not sure where to start, read my book Step Up or Step Out to discover a system for dealing with difficult employees that really works, even if you hate conflict.


3. Identify Behaviour Problems


The quickest way to a massive confrontation where everyone loses is to have a big one-off battle with the difficult employee where you use generalizations like, "For the past few years, you've..." Or "You always...". We tend to use generalizations when we haven't through through specific behaviours. This is why 'clear and early' is the key to dealing with a difficult employee.


4. Be Proactive


When dealing with difficult employees, it is important to be proactive. This means taking the initiative to find out why the employee is acting a certain way and how you can help them. Listen carefully and try to understand their perspective so you can work together to solve any issues. As mentioned above, be 'clear and early' with your feedback rather than 'vague and late' like we so often are.


5. Be Willing To Do Hard Things


My favourite leadership quote of all time is Patrick Lencioni: "Building a healthy team is both possible and remarkably simple. But it's painfully difficult." To deal with difficult employees in your team and organization, it's simple and possible but it's not going to be easy. Prepare yourself to do hard things. I find it helpful (as horrible as it sounds) to expect some people will hate you. If you can't deal with that, then you may struggle as a leader.


6. Conduct Investigations Where Cecessary


Some difficult behaviour can be dealt with adhoc. However, there are some circumstances where you will need to conduct an investigation and then discuss your findings with the employee. In these cases you'll also need to give them an opportunity to put their case forward.


7. Consult With The HR Team


Talk to the HR team for help in solving difficult employee issues. They can give advice on how to handle the problem and what steps to take. This is always a good idea but when the behaviour is serious or potentially warrants termination this will also save your backside legally. Not only because of the advice you receive but because of what you don't do once you've discussed with HR.


8. Work Through Your Company’s Processes


It is important to follow the rules and steps that your company has set. This will help make sure everything is done in the right way. I'm all for clear expectations, picking small battles and no surprises, but I'm equally aware of legal implications. Seek legal advice when needed, engage with your HR department or consider a HR consultant and make sure you. have company processes in place that are clear and that you're following them.


9. Understand The Bigger Picture


Understand the whole situation. Think about why it is happening and what else could be affected. This is a helpful mindset for every leader. But it can also give you 'aha' moments about ripple effects of dealing with this difficult employee you might not have considered otherwise.