By Colleen Kettenhofen

When you’re managing difficult employees, wouldn’t it be great to have tips you can quickly apply in the heat of the moment?

These tips will help immediately—whether you’re dealing with whiners, complainers, gossips, or people who simply make everyone miserable.

  1.  Address a tricky issue immediately when managing difficult employees. Otherwise, people working for you might wonder why you’re not doing anything about it.  By waiting too long, you risk dampening team morale. The difficult employee’s unchecked behavior becomes like a cancer that spreads. More than that, hesitating can affect your credibility.
  2. Document silence in performance reviews. Let’s say you have an insubordinate subordinate. When you meet privately about a performance issue, this type of difficult employee defiantly remains silent.  About halfway through the meeting, you say, “So, what are your thoughts on everything we’ve discussed so far?” Then that person sits there, arms folded, looking at you as if to say, “Are we done yet?!” If you ask the difficult employee the same question a couple of times and don’t get a response, you can document “silence” as a response for the record. You do this because you want to show you are open to a different viewpoint by soliciting feedback.
  3. Ask a question of the difficult employee and wait 15 seconds for a response. If you don’t get an answer, ask the question a second time. Be sure to ask calmly; don’t let the person know your feathers are getting ruffled. If you still don’t get a response, ask the question a third time. If you’re again met with silence, you can calmly reply, “You know that you’re exhibiting career-limiting behavior. I’d really like to know your feedback on everything we’ve discussed.” Then document everything that the person says and/or does. Caution: Don’t “slip” and accidentally say, “You’re exhibiting career-eliminating behavior!” You may know in your mind that’s the direction the person is heading, but don’t use those words—ever! When managing difficult employees, be careful with everything you say, do, and write in case of a future dispute.
  4. Not to sound like your mother, but watch your tone of voice. In face-to-face communication, tone accounts for almost 40% of what a person believes about you. Here’s an example of this. My friend who works from home talks with clients all day. One afternoon after her little daughter heard her mom finish a business call, she said, “Mommy, I like your client voice better than your mommy voice.” Out of the mouths of babes! Yes, people pick up on more than your words; they hear your tone of voice and closely watch your body language. Keep them both positive and upbeat.

Put these tips into practice when you need them most—and do so quickly!


Colleen Kettenhofen is an international leadership and change management expert. This award-winning corporate trainer and conference keynote speaker has delivered more than 1,100 entertaining programs in 48 U.S. states and five countries. A media expert, Colleen has been a guest on dozens of radio shows. Her 40+ articles on diverse workplace issues have appeared in publications nationwide.

Recently, Colleen interviewed 200+ managers and CEOs for her new book, Secrets Your Boss Isn’t Telling You. She has also published 10 audio programs and co-authored The Masters of Success. Her latest book Adopting Joy, will be released soon.

Colleen can assist your organization with successful leadership skills through her keynotes, seminars, and workshops. Be sure to visit for details call (971) 212-0479 in Portland, OR.