Dealing With Difficult Employees


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Dealing with Difficult Employees

Are you in a position where you happen to be dealing with difficult employees? 

If so, here I give you three Do’s, and three Don’t’s. 

These three “Do’s” and “Don’t’s” are not meant to cure all your illnesses, but rather, they are meant to give you foundational strategies, to help you improve your people leadership competencies.


Please allow me to ask you one question.

You don’t have to answer this question to me of course. However, to get the full benefit from this article, it is critical that you answer this question to yourself.

The question is:

Do you tend to blame—either consciously or unconsciously—your difficult employees?

Think about it, and answer this question before you proceed reading. 

Got it?

OK, let’s go … 

If you are like most human beings ... you probably answered "yes"

Whether you answered "yes" or "no" ... please let me bring something to your attention: 

  • What happens when you place the blame on somebody else?
  • What happens when you blame one of your difficult employees?

Are you in full control—100 percent—of the situation, or do you begin to play the role of the victim?

Generally speaking, when you—or any other human being for that matter—place the blame (consciously or unconsciously) on somebody else … you begin to lose full control of the situation, and you begin to play the role of the victim; isn’t it? 

You are your employee’s boss, you are his/her disciplinary supervisor. In this relationship, it is YOU who must be in control; you must definitely not be the victim.

Here is your first “Do" and your first “Don’t”

  • Your first Do: Take full responsibility for your direct reports’ performance
  • Your first Don’t: Don’t blame your direct reports—ever


In real life and in normal circumstances, while you are dealing with your difficult employees, it is you who usually looks at them. You usually look at your difficult employees, from your perspective. 

But today, I am going to ask you to change your perspective, 180 degrees.

I am going to ask you to look at yourself, from your difficult employees’ perspective.

And I am going to ask you to answer these two questions: 

  1. First question: HOW do they perceive you?
  2. Second question: WHY do they perceive you the way they do? 

Whether you believe you know the answer to these two questions or not, I am going to ask you to ask them these two questions. 

Why? Because you must have the answer to these two questions from their perspective, not from your perspective.

The source of most conflicts is miscommunication.

And when you ask these two questions, listen up, genuinely. 

Don’t get into a discussion whether they are right or wrong. Just listen. Do your best to understand their perspective.

You want to better understand your direct reports. 

And you also want to learn what it is you are doing—and/or not doing—that is fueling this situation.

An open communication is a critical ingredient in trust building. 

Here is your second “Do" and your second “Don’t”

  • Your second Do: Ask your difficult employees HOW they perceive you, and WHY (individually of course)
  • Your second Don’t: Don’t create a closed communication environment within the team you lead


The reason you and your direct reports are together is to deliver results. 

  • IF you have genuinely listened to your employee’s feedback, and you have acted on it …  
  • IF you are leading your employee’s performance in an objective way … 
  • IF you are positive there are no obstacles that hinder his/her performance … 
  • And IF you have genuinely tried to help your employee to improve his/her behavior, through positive and constructive feedback, and through ongoing performance conversations … 

And still … your direct report continues to exhibit undesired behaviors, then, it is time to show to him/her two choices:

  • Either to change his/her behavior, in order to stay
  • Or not to change his/her behavior, and to go

But this is your very last alternative—generally speaking, it is more cost effective to train an employee than to hire a new one.

Please NOTE: If you get to this point in your relationship with your difficult employee, you must document everything, and you must follow your HR policies, processes and guidelines in this particular situation—always asking HR for support in this regard. Litigation regarding the management of employees is very high; you want to protect yourself—and your company—from legal action. 

As I said, the reason why you and your employees are together is to deliver results. 

Do what you need to do … and move on.

Here is your third “Do" and your third “Don’t”

  • Your third Do: Lead the performance of your direct reports, in an objective way
  • Your third Don’t: Don’t tolerate undesired behaviors—ever, because if you do, you will lose control, and you won’t be the leader anymore

Dealing with difficult employees


  1. Take full responsibility for your direct reports’ performance
  2. Ask your difficult employees HOW they perceive you, and WHY (privately)
  3. Be a leader


  1. Don’t blame your direct reports
  2. Don’t create a closed communication environment within the team you lead
  3. Don’t tolerate undesired behaviors