How do you look at the difficult employees on your team? Could it be that you are looking at them the wrong way?
I’m not saying that everyone is fixable. It may ultimately be better for everyone if the difficult employees wouldn’t work at your organization anymore. I think Abraham Lincoln got it right when he said that people are usually as happy as they make up their minds to be. Nonetheless, you may be the one to help those difficult employees change their minds.
Difficult people have been through difficult stuff. And hurt people hurt people. If you just pass them off as difficult employees then you may be missing a huge opportunity—for them and for you.
Here are three questions you can use to look at difficult employees differently.
1. Where do your difficult employees struggle?
What is the stuff that your difficult employees deal with? Don’t just say they have a bad attitude. You owe them more than that. After all, you hired them. Think through the kinds of things that they say. That will give you a clue into what they are dealing with.
Are they always putting others down—to their face or behind their back? If so, then it’s likely they think poorly of themselves.
Do they always talk about what someone else did to them—or perhaps what they themselves didn’t do? If so, it’s probably because they have never forgiven that person—or themselves.
Do they always seem to assume the worst of others? If so, it’s likely because they are projecting into the future some event(s) that happened in the past—possibly a very long time ago.
When you look more deeply at the things your difficult employees say and do, you may see someone who is deeply hurting on the inside. You may see them for who they are and not as the persona they are trying to mask their pain with. And that may help you begin to help them.
2. How can you look at your difficult employees differently?
When your difficult employees do the things that bother you, choose to see them as someone who could become so much more than they are right now.
When you choose to see people as their potential instead of as a problem, then you may be able to help them become the people they could be. Like I said before, not everyone can helped. You will not be able to help them if they are not willing to help themselves. But your perception of them as image bearers of God—and not as irritants—will go a long way to help you deal with them.
It is important that you refrain from laughing about them behind their back with other colleagues. That will not help you have the right mindset to help them. It is important to train the way you think about them if you are going to make the situation improve.
If you can begin to see them as God sees them, then you can begin to have the compassion necessary to help them get out of their stuff. And that compassion will help you have the patience to deal with them.
3. How can you help your difficult employees?
Once you decide to look at them differently, then you can begin to help them change. You cannot change them. And they may not want to change themselves. But if you give them the right environment, they may discover they are willing to make the change.
Do not assume that your difficult employees are static characters. View them as dynamic people. Believe that they are capable of change.
When you have a conversation with them, do not presume you know what they are going to say. They may have always complained about the same things, but do not tune them out if they do. Care about them enough to challenge them.
When you hear them revert to their negative ways, ask them why they think that way. Then take the time to listen to what they have to say. I’m not saying that you should become their counselor. But it’s possible that no one has ever challenged them to think about their situation before.
God has placed you in your position of leadership for the good of those who work for you—even your difficult employees. Do not squander that opportunity be being just a boss.
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Robert McFarland is the author of the bestsellers, Dear Boss: What Your Employees Wish You Knew and Dear Employee: What Your Boss Wishes You Knew. Robert is also President of Transformational Impact LLC, a leadership development consultancy helping companies improve their employee cultures to make the companies healthier, more productive, and more profitable.