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MANAGING STAFF

Failsafe solutions to 3 irritating staff behavior problems

Dealing with unacceptable staff behavior is for most managers the hardest part of the job.

Here is a no-fail formula that works in all situations and instructions for how to apply it to three of the most annoying types of people.

1 The ultra-sensitive staffer who can’t take criticism

2 The staffer who brings personal problems to work and tells everybody about them.

3 The know-it-all who gets on everybody’s last nerve

Every administrator has one of the three in the office at some point and some have all three at the same time. Here’s the formula and how to use it.

This is what I have observed

With any type of behavior problem, the best thing to do for that person is to address it early and frankly. The procedure is direct.

Begin with, “This is what have observed.” Next give specific examples, and then say in a matter-of-fact tone, “What would you like to do to resolve this?”

End with encouragement such as “I’m happy to help you in any way I can.”

Managers tend to tiptoe around behavior issues so as not to upset an employee but the only outcome of procrastination is that the situation worsens until the manager finally does address it, the issue is a big deal.

Managers can avoid showdowns almost entirely by keeping staff constantly aware of how they are doing. Not only does that keep people on track, but the more frequently employers talk with their employees, the easier it becomes for them to take criticism and benefit from it.

Staffer Ultra-Sensitive

Now for the three applications: First is the ultra-sensitive staffer who can’t take criticism.

People like that are perfectionists who try hard to please. They are also fragile and needy and require more praise than the average employee.

Thus the best overall way to deal with them is to give frequent feedback in small doses. Hopefully that will avoid the need for criticism. However, when it doesn’t you should give the criticism in a non-judgmental, neutral tone and allow the benefit of the doubt: “I know you had good intentions…” or “I know you didn’t do that on purpose…”or ‘You’re usually so good at X, and I know this was just a slip-up because you’ve been so busy.”

With the ultra-sensitive employee, don’t jump right into the criticism without easing the blow. Otherwise, the person will tend to feel accused and punished, and the reaction will be to shut down before hearing the rest of the message.

After the introduction, proceed as usual. Don’t sugarcoat the criticism. Lay it on the table, give examples of the poor performance, and ask, “What would you like to do to resolve this? End with the standard encouragement of “I’ll be happy to help you in any way I can.”

With that type of staffer, managers often try to make things even less unpleasant by sandwiching the criticism between remarks about good things that the person does. But that is carrying sensitivity too far. What happens is that the manager hides behind the sweet talk and the staffer never hears the criticism.

Staffer Personal Problems

Next is the staffer with the personal problems. Start off with patience, particularly if that person is a good performer. But once the personal problems become excuses for not getting to work or not meeting deadlines, there has been patience enough.

Here is what to say: “I know you’ve had personal issues you have been struggling with. I want to talk with you about how I perceive that those problems are affecting your work.”

When mentioning problems always use the word “perceive.” It takes the conversation out of the realm of accusation and gives the employee room to explain the other side of the picture.

Show empathy. “I can understand this must be a difficult time for you…” But hit the point: “You need to be focused on your work” or “your problems are affecting other employees’ ability to work.”

Be prepared for argument. If the staffer says, “I am not bothering the other employees,” answer with, “I know that is not your intention, but that’s their perception. So what can you do to change that perception?”

Personal problems have become a common management problem. While in years past people did not bring their troubles to work, it is now accepted to discuss personal things in an office.

Any manager has to let people talk, but draw the line when personal problems affect the staffer’s work or the work of other employees.

Some offices hire outside employee assistance programs to help with that. The program usually charges a per-employee fee and has literature, online resources and call centers to address everything from financial issues to depression.

Staffer Know-It-All

What about the know-it-alls? Those people are praise junkies. They need lots of recognition. They usually have their identity tied up in their jobs. They are insecure and try to hide it by pretending to know more than everybody else.

They are often productive, but they don’t play well with others. They are arrogant toward newcomers. They are impatient with someone asks a questions. They think they work harder than everybody else.

Surprisingly, the way to deal with know-it-alls is to compliment them. The praise makes them feel recognized, and often that is enough to eliminate the need to show off.

If that does not work, once again, it is a matter of confrontation. Tell Know It All the behavior is hurting progress on the job. That is the only way to get a know-it-all to listen.

Here is an example:

“We have talked about your becoming a supervisor. A crucial part of the supervisor job is earning the respect of the team. I want to share with you some things that could get in the way of your goals of moving up.”

Then give the examples of the obnoxious behavior and give them word for word.

“When Staffer A asked you a question in the staff meeting, you rolled your eyes and said, ‘You should know that by now.’ And last week I overheard you tell Staffer B, ‘I have to do everything around here, don’t I?'”

Don’t paraphrase anything. Play the video. The direct playback takes the judgment out of the conversation. Know–It-All can’t argue with you it.

Close with a summary of what’s expected: “If you want to be a supervisor, you need to build trust, and that kind of attitude is not going to do so. People won’t follow you and won’t want to work with you. In fact, they don’t want to work with you now because you demean them.”


Editor’s picks:

Ending 6 irritating staff behaviors


How to get poor performers to commit to improved behavior—without confrontation


3 dozen ways to handle difficult discussions


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