Training on How to Deal With Difficult Employees

by Bonnie Swain Schindly

Sooner or later, most workers cross paths with an impossible coworker. That difficult employee might be overly opinionated, quick to become emotional or too fanatical about details. But before you dismiss your difficult peer as an irritant, consider that personalities and past experiences could be the real sources of tensions. Conflict-resolution training teaches office mates how to better understand the forces that influence people's behaviors.


A personality assessment tool known as DiSC measures the four traits that are found in every human personality: dominance, influence, steadiness and compliance. Everyone is heavily governed by at least one of those traits. For instance, someone with a strong sense of dominance prefers to be in charge, while influencers are social butterflies who are OK with following commands. An employee who scores high in steadiness is accommodating and cooperative. The compliance-driven peer is a stickler for accuracy. But toss everyone onto the same team, and they clash. For example, influencers are comfortable around chaos, but a dominant personality feels out of control around disorder. Dominant and compliant people don't care if their coworkers like them, but an influencer feels crushed at being disliked. Employees who undergo DiSC training see that their colleagues aren't deliberately acting quirky as a way of driving them up the walls. Instead, they're just wired differently.


Organizations today are focused on developing multicultural environments that foster a sense of inclusion among all employees. However, blending a variety of demographics – such as age, gender, religion and ethnicity -- can contribute to workplace friction. An organizational trainer needs to probe these sensitive subjects so employees can clear the air with candid discussions about stereotypes. For example, an employee might learn that a colleague didn't appreciate a comment that a coworker is doing a good job despite being the oldest person on the team. Someone else might be surprised to find out that asking the only woman in a group to take minutes of a meeting is unfair. Successful diversity awareness training nudges employees to hold these honest discussions so everyone can more effectively communicate and collaborate.


Another helpful tool in settling office battles is learning to fight – not with kickboxing or insults but with one-on-one dialogue. Communication trainers suggest that you ignore that inner voice that tells you to run from a conflict. Instead, step up to the plate and ask coworkers to explain their challenging behaviors. Let them speak, even if it means listening to someone's rant that you always seem to make mistakes or miss deadlines. Ask for specifics. Talk about how a particular departmental blunder could have been averted. The more you interact with your difficult peers, the more you'll recognize that opposition is unavoidable and normal.


For managers, conflict-resolution training means fighting their own battles while at the same time refereeing their subordinates’ squabbles. They've got to facilitate and then manage truces among their employees. Otherwise, morale and productivity will plummet, in addition to the risk that a spat might someday erupt into workplace violence. A leader has to build an environment where employees can challenge each other by using respect and focusing on the problem. Name calling and personal jabs are not permitted. Workplace arguments actually can end up becoming a positive force because opposing ideas can lead to innovative thinking.

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