By Colleen Kettenhofen

In conducting keynotes and workshops for managers and supervisors over the last 13 years, I’m often asked about managing difficult employees. Here are some easy tips for exactly what to say, and what not to say in managing difficult people. Whether you’re managing whiners and complainers, gossips, or people who otherwise want to make everybody else miserable!

Say, for example, you have an insubordinate subordinate. This type of difficult employee, when you meet privately about a performance issue, defiantly remains silent. About halfway through the performance meeting you say to them, “So, what are your thoughts on everything we’ve discussed so far?” If they sit there with their arms folded, looking upset and not talking, you can document silence. Especially if you ask the difficult employee the question a couple of times and don’t get a response. It’s almost like they’re looking at you as if to say, “Are we done yet?!”

Another tip for managing difficult people like this is to ask the question and wait 15 seconds for a response. If you don’t get one, ask the question a second time. Ask calmly. Don’t let them know they’re starting to rattle your cage and ruffle your feathers! If you still don’t get a response from the difficult employee, ask the question a third time. If they still don’t respond, you can calmly reply, “You know, you’re beginning to exhibit career limiting behavior. I’d really like to get your feedback on everything we’ve discussed.” Document everything.

Make sure you don’t “slip” and accidentally say, “You’re beginning to exhibit career eliminating behavior!” You may know in your mind that’s the direction they’re heading in, but don’t tell them that! In managing difficult employees, you have to be so careful with everything you say, do, and put into writing.

Watch your tone of voice. In face-to-face communication, tone accounts for up to 38% of what a person believes about you. I have a friend who works from home talking with clients all day. One afternoon when she finished a business call, her little daughter replied, “Mommy, I like your client voice better than your mommy voice!” So, yes, people pick up on not just words, but your tone of voice. And, most importantly, your body language.

Lastly, in managing difficult employees, it’s imperative to address the issue immediately. Otherwise, the other people working for you start to wonder why you’re not doing anything about it. It affects team morale. It affects your credibility. Good luck!

October 30, 2008

You are free to reprint or repost this article for use in your newsletters, association publications, or intranet provided Colleen Kettenhofen’s contact information (name, website, and email) is included with the article. Colleen Kettenhofen is a Phoenix, Arizona motivational speaker, trainer, & co-author of “The Masters of Success ,” featured on NBC’s Today Show, along with Ken Blanchard and Jack Canfield. For free articles, video clips, and e-newsletter, visit Colleen’s area of expertise are leadership, managing people, life balance, difficult people, presentation skills. Colleen is available for keynotes, breakout sessions and seminars.


She can be reached at contact information listed below:

Colleen Kettenhofen

(971) 212-0479


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