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There’s Always That One…The Difficult One

difficultWhile I’m sure we all occasionally wish our workplace could be full of high-performing, intrinsically-motivated, exceedingly engaged employees who are always happy and satisfied and never complain, argue or make unreasonable demands, truth is our workplaces are made up of real people.  It’s the variety of the unique experiences, skills, temperaments and other characteristics that provides us with a workplace that keeps us interested and engaged.

Any of our employees can have a bad day or days.  These real people have headaches, aging parents, money troubles, unfulfilled dreams…any number of distractions that plague them during the workday and can cause us to have a challenging day.

But, then there’s always that one.  The truly difficult one whose attitude is so twisted it routinely causes you problems.  They keep things stirred up.  This employee needs constant attention and causes lower productivity, employee complaints and, ultimately, increased turnover, if not appropriately addressed.

Robert Bacal, author of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Dealing with Difficult Employees, says “…difficult people mainly use their conduct to control their situations and other people’s reactions. Because people respond differently to the difficult person, the difficult person can manipulate, control and influence the reactions of those involved in the encounter. Even if bad things happen to difficult people, the payoff is that they have created the situation, and that gives them a sense of control.”

So, we must address the bad behavior.  Ignoring it just perpetuates it.

I’m a fan of the direct approach.  Providing unemotional feedback regarding how their behavior is impacting others and ask for their cooperation in making changes.  Sometimes when I’m having this conversation, the employee acts surprised to hear that they are problematic.  It’s interesting to hear how they believe they are the hardest worker and couldn’t possibly be causing problems.  I don’t try to convince them.  Rather, I offer suggestions for how they can alter their interaction with others to contribute to team cohesiveness.

Sometimes that works.  Sometimes it doesn’t, but even if it doesn’t have prolonged success, it’s a great starting point.  And now, I have a second conversation. I refer to our original discussion, but now state specific expectations as well as the consequences of failure to meet the expectations.  And this time, the difficult employee is not surprised to hear there’s an issue.

If there is a repeat of the behavior, you have to be the strong one.  You must follow through with the consequence.  Remember the difficult employee is that way because the behavior has worked in the past.  If you’re not willing to take the next step, then you’re decided to allow the bad behavior to continue.

joycex125Joyce has over 30 years of progressive human resources experience in the private sector environment.  She holds a Business Administration degree from Emmanuel College, Franklin Springs, GA; was awarded Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) designation by the Human Resources Certification Institute and holds an Advanced Certificate in Internal Investigations.

She has served on the board of the HR Florida State Council since 2007 and currently serves as Immediate Past President.  She has been a member of the Florida State University Center for Human Resource Management Board since 2008 and was a Board Member of the Big Bend Society for Human Resource Management from 2006 through 2009, serving as President in 2008.  She served on the Big Bend Business Leadership Network Board from 2005 until 2007 and currently serves on the Springtime Tallahassee Foundation Board.  She is a past-president of Extra Point Club, a Florida State University Seminole Booster organization.

Joyce has been named a Tallahassee Volunteer of the Year Finalist and Leon County Schools Volunteer of the Year.  She was selected as one of the “Twenty-five Women You Should Know in Tallahassee” and was honored with the designation of the Florida Resources Professional of the Year in 2008.  In 2009, the Florida Trend Magazine featured her as a Trendsetter in Human Resources.

Joyce resides in Tallahassee, FL and is a member of Big Bend SHRM.

Click here to find other posts written by Joyce.

Talk to Joyce at:



Chastain Consulting


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