7 Ways to Deal with Employees Who Drive You Crazy

If you’re just tuning in, I’ve been teaching an MBA course on Managing Difficult Employees and gave these “students” (read that, really smart working millennials with big jobs in our  nation’s capital) “homework” to developing an approach to manage their difficult employee and to journal about it. If you missed Monday’s post, best to start there.

I asked these “students” to share what they learned most from their experience. Their list is a powerful start. I’m excited for you to add your best thinking.

  1. Don’t ignore it. I know, I know… this seems SO obvious, but I’ve got to tell you 97% of the stories started with that strategy. Be honest with yourself. What really difficult employees (up, down and sideways) are you ignoring, or staying away from in hopes that the problem will take care of itself?
  2. Try something. I had to laugh at how many students shared, “and then you made me… and it worked!” Bottom line, no grades were given for action, just analysis. No “making” just “challenging.” Where do you need to be challenged to address the situation?
  3. Look within. At the end of the day, the deepest discovery for many of the students was that they were part of the problem. I was impressed to see so many sharing “and then I became a difficult employee because…”
  4. Understand their point of view. It’s amazing how the perspective changes from another person’s cube. Go there, listen and hang out a while.
  5. Get to know them as human beings. No really. I mean it, even if they’re really jerky. This was one of the number one strategies and it changed the game.
  6. Stand-up for what’s right. These guys and gals put bullies in their place, and had their bosses reconsider. Don’t take crap. People treat you how you let them.
  7. If it’s really stupid get HR involved. Your boss can’t smack you, or demean you, or hide vital information. If it’s really stupid, write it down and get the right people involved. That works too.
Posted in Authenticity & Transparency, Career & Learning, Communication, Employee Engagement & Energy and tagged , .

Karin Hurt

Karin Hurt, Founder of Let’s Grow Leaders, helps leaders around the world achieve breakthrough results, without losing their soul. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she has over two decades of experience in sales, customer service, and HR. She was recently named on Inc's list of 100 Great Leadership Speakers and American Management Association's 50 Leaders to Watch. She’s the author of 3 books: Winning Well: A Manager's Guide to Getting Results-Without Losing Your Soul, Overcoming an Imperfect Boss, and Glowstone Peak.


  1. Hello Karin,

    I would like to Emphasize on the 1st bulletin.

    When i say ignore Them, I mean that, make the Trouble making Employee feel that he is being ignored From the Team activities, not discussing any Team related activities with him but with others. This will be a kind Of leadership Quality (Transformational leadership -The out Group concept- Organizational Behaviour). Reducing the one on one discussions with that person, not giving any additional task but the routine work which he usually does. This will Intrinsically Create a solution. I thought that might help.


    • Mukcundhan,
      Thanks so much for your thoughts on this. I think in some circumstances that could work, I also worry that it could aggregate the situation depending on what is causing the negative behavior. I’d be really curious to hear from others on their thinking on this. Anyone else want to weigh in?

    • Hi Mukundhan & Karen –

      This may be a cultural difference. I currently work with teams across the world and have found that in particular my Asia (specifically India) team is managed similarly to a parent-child relationship. This works for them currently, but I know it would never work for my Argentina or US teams. It is important to keep in mind that you must lead in a way that people will follow – and sometimes there are significant cultural differences that really impact people’s perspectives, values, reactions, thoughts, feelings, etc. Just my 2 cents! 🙂

    • Katy, That makes a lot of sense. In some of the classes I teach we have as many as 40% International students, and I do see quite a difference in culture, particularly from China.

  2. Great list of strategies in dealing with difficult employees.

    I would add that saying something like: “I really want us to have a better working relationship. How can we make that happen?” might be helpful. As you mentioned listening to their perspective can sometimes offer important insights to the conflict.

    Thanks Karin!

  3. Wisdom! All strong aha’s and advice. I’ve seen leaders thinking that they’ve put #4 into action but miss the essential piece of your advice here… meet them where they are. I worked with a leader who thought that the entire team was incompetent until he decided to spend some time hip to hip on the call center floor and what he heard floored him. He didn’t hear people who were incompetent he discovered technology that was a challenge and processes that were shaky and managers that were not coaching but instead busy with admin.

    • Alli, Thanks! I’ve seen that too. If the “entire team” is incompetent something is seriously wrong at the leadership level.

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