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Good as (un)golden: a set of tactics and some understanding will help you get through to those difficult employees.

At some point, we all have to deal with difficult employees. These people might whine and complain constantly, project to everything or simply remain silent without offering feedback of any kind. Their interactions with other coworkers and supervisors may create rumor or major scuffles, which disrupt the work day and lower morale.

The answer is practicing good communication, even with the most difficult employees. If you want to be heard, try me unGolden Rule: Communicate with others the way they want--not the way you want.

Understand how difficult employees need to hear information. Recognize their individual communication pattern and give mere what they need to feel more comfortable.

According to the ungolden rule, people develop certain patterns of communication over time. Some people are emotional and like to express their feelings. Some people are quiet and withdrawn; others are detail oriented. People become comfortable with their communication style and typically communicate more effectively with others who share similar patterns.

In stressful times--much like the work environment many long term care facilities--people cling to these patterns like glue. They will cease to listen to different communication styles.

If you increase the stress, the person will become rigid. The key is to decrease the stress and make communication easier. If the initial moments of communication are familiar, people show more flexibility almost immediately. So, if you speak with emotion to emotional People, they become more open to facts and figures. If you discuss details first with detail-oriented people, they become open to the bigger picture.

People develop identifiable and predictable communications patterns to deal with the world. Understanding these patterns will alleviate some frustration. Learning how and why people communicate the way they do will increase your chance of being heard. Following are four difficult communication patterns and how to deal with them.

The Silent Sally (or Sam)

Silent Sally or Sam personalities like to blend in with the wallpaper. They will hardly say anything because they have a deep belief that they are doomed to fail. In their mind, the best way to avoid failure is to avoid responsibility by not saying anything.

Silent Sally/Sams learn silence because they have been told, either at home or at work, that initiative gets you in trouble. They have never been rewarded for taking a risk, or worse, they may have been punished for doing so.

You begin dealing with Silent Sally/Sams by giving them the message that it's safe to share opinions in a workplace. Speak to them in private, but not in a closed office, as the closed door will threaten them. Begin the conversation by saying that you need and want to hear from all employees. Ask them an open-ended, non-threatening question such as, "What do you like about working here?" Allow at least a 30-second pause. Eventually, the person will say something. Praise them for their opinion--whatever it is. Tell the per son that you would like to hear any suggestions they might have to offer. When they do make a suggestion, listen. Make sure you also hold them accountable for their job. They will learn that silence will no longer work.

Mr. or Mrs. Perfectionist

These gals/guys want it perfect and will accept no less. Perfectionists can drive you crazy because they can become critical of others who don't meet their standards. As a result of this quest for perfection, they can also take a long time finishing tasks because they want it "just right." Change is hard for Perfectionists because they are looking for predictable outcomes.

Communicate with a Perfectionist by showing that you and the organization are working for the best possible result. If the Perfectionist sees you concerned about quality as well, the person becomes more flexible.

You can also deal with Perfectionists by using guidelines. Establish guidelines and expectations up front for the tasks the Perfectionist must complete. Tell the person these expectations and allow an opportunity for discussion. If you get agreement, Perfectionists will do their utmost to follow these guidelines. Perfectionists can be extremely helpful in orienting new employees. If you have to deviate from the results, you should provide a rational explanation to the Perfectionist.

The Know It All

Picture someone who thinks they know a little about everything and wants to make sure you know they know. In meetings, Know It Alls raise constant objections.

There are other people who are knowledgeable and curious people, but they don't fit in this category. Know It Alls are not looking for answers or solutions. They live to raise objections. Like the Silent Sally, they can avoid responsibility by raising objections but still come off as an expert.

To communicate with a Know It All, don't argue the contentions. Allow a few moments for the person to speak and then gently bring them back to the here and now. Use phrases like, "We have to deal with this issue now. We can talk about that concern another time."

If they persist in raising objections, ask how they would like to address the issue. They will usually be unable to give a concrete suggestion, and so you will be able to go on with the discussion.

Additionally, you can deal with a Know It All by redirecting the conversation and energy to productive areas where the person can be an expert. Know It Alls can be helpful if they are in charge of a small area or task.

Make them the copy machine expert, the plant chief or the laundry queen. Give them a task that will make them feel like a success.

The Whiner

The Whiner is the most difficult communication pattern, Whiners complain about everything and they don't like to whine alone. This can have detrimental effects on your staff's productivity and morale. People become Whiners for two reasons: They feel they have no choice or it is a life-long habit. Those who believe that they have no choice are usually frustrated by their inability to impact problems at the work place. These employees will try to contribute but fail, usually because of poor management. The second type has used whining as a way to control their environment for a tong time.

Communicating with a Whiner is tricky. To distinguish the type of whiner, you will have to do some direct observation. Was the Whiner always a Whiner? Or, did they, start recently? Do they have a consistent complaint that seems to make sense? Or, do they travel from complaint to complaint? If a person whines from legitimate frustration, then dealing with the reason for the frustration will help, In this case, conveying sympathy and a willingness to help is essential. By doing this, you will turn a potential problem employee into a valuable asset.

Whiners need limits. Do not provide an opportunity to whine. Clear, simple directions will prevent some of it. Establishing an open-door policy with employees will go a long way to preventing others from listening to the Whiner. If your other employees think that you listen, they will dismiss the Whiner. Direct confrontation might be necessary after you collect concrete examples of how their whining affects the organization.

You may encounter other difficult personalities. If so, just remember there is a better way to get through to people than becoming frustrated. Keen your cool and remember the ungolden rule.


It's a fact that not every employee makes the cut. Here's how to slice the cord without making your former employee feel as if the world has come to an end:

Never negotiate. The golden rule: This is not a discussion of how to improve things, correct things, change the past, find blame or start over. This will only raise sore points and emotions. An employee isn't likely to be convinced that termination is a good idea. Write a script of the few points to cover.

Room without a view. Find a room out of view of other employees and preferably not the office of the person doing the firing. The person conducting the firing needs to be able to walk away if it is no longer productive to stay.

Timing is everything. Choose the end of a work day and the end of a work week (while other employees are departing) to deliver the news. This way, when the meeting is over, the fired employee cannot immediately seek out those believed to be responsible.

Further, the fired worker will then be going home at the usual time as opposed to being home on a weekday morning. This allows the emotional impact of the event to subside.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T. Handle the termination with dignity and treat the person with respect. Provide an opportunity to leave with respect and dignity.

Watch your P's and Q's. Always have a witness in the room to avoid future complaints about what might have transpired. And re-emphasize the facility's policy that the employee is not allowed back in the building. This is to protect his well-being as well as the company's security.


"Difficult" employees share many traits that make it possible to categorize their personalities. While Mark Darby touches upon several of the most common types of difficult people to work with, Other human resources professionals add a few more categories to the list:

The Sherman Tank: In Coping With Difficult People (Dell Publishing, 1998), author Dr. Robert Bramson, a clinical psychiatrist and human resources consultant, likens this personality to a basic-training drill sergeant The person tries to intimidate you with loud, in-your-face arguments. "You knew you've got a Sherman Tank when you hear opinions stated forcefully as facts." Bramson noted.

The Antidote: Get the Tank's attention by using the person's first name; maintain eye contact and stand up to them without fighting. Take them out of their "superior stance" by suggesting you sit down to continue talking.

The Volcano: This is the person who goes off on you or a co-worker--or even a resident--for no apparent reason. This type is similar to The Sherman Tank in the hostile-aggressive nature, except they don't let their true feelings out as often--making their eruption all the worse, according to business psychologist Dr. Kerry L Johnson, author of Mastering the Game (Louis & Ford, 2003). Typically, a Volcano's explosive actions are due to on-the-job pressure or personal problems, such as low self-esteem, that the worker internalizes until reaching a breaking point. "Their mode of operation is to first blame a problem on another and then explode." Johnson stated.

The Antidote: "Let them talk until they run down ... much like a wind-up toy loses its energy." Johnson recommended. "Tell them that you want to hear what they're upset about, but not in this way." Get as many facts as possible, focusing on tangible details, not emotion.

The Sniper: These are specialists in firing off a (usually) negative shot about your actions--often disguised as a sarcastic comment. These remarks are made when Snipers are in a group and can blend in--or at least spread responsibility for their comments among their coworkers ("Well, that's how we all feel"). Snipers will also talk about you behind your back. They avoid one-to-one confrontations.

The Antidote: Expose the attack by focusing on them. Ask that person to repeat the comment. "Use therapeutic puzzlement," Bramson suggested in Coping. "Adopt a quizzical air as if you can't quite figure out why they would say whatever they have said." And get other opinions to deflate the attack. "People will rarely back up a sniper," Bramson noted.

The Narcissist: This is the "Jekyll, then Hyde" personality--someone who may be a very good employee at first because that person is promoting a personal agenda. In typical fashion, such a person may graciously rise from nursing assistant to director of nurses before assuming a persona of "I can do no wrong." Such a person requires excessive praise to remain happy and does not take criticism well. "Over time, their self-serving behavior will not be compatible with the company's objectives and goals," said Dr. Stephen Heidel, president and chief executive officer of Integrated Insights, a San Diego firm specializing in providing behavioral health services at company work sites.

The Antidote: Give the employee realistic feedback about the effect of the person's actions on the other employees. Offer negative feedback in a constructive manner. Remember to give positive feedback about things the employee has done well. "if the narcissistic employee understands that their behavior is having negative effects on others and those effects will hurt the employee, there may be enough motivation to change their behavior," Heidel said.

The Merchant of Doom: For these people, disaster is everywhere. Nothing will ever work, because "we tried it last time and it was a major disaster" or it will "simply be too hard because we don't have the manpower." They can douse any enthusiasm you're trying to generate among your staff.

The Antidote: In Coping, Bramson recommended that you carefully consider Doom Merchants' arguments. Acknowledge the valid points and ignore the rest. Remember to describe the company's past successes, but avoid "you're wrong, I'm right" arguments.

The Green-Eyed Monster: This problem employee is jealous of others' successes The employee believes they should have something not earned. For example, this type of person reacts with spiteful behavior when others receive promotions or pay raises.

The Antidote: "Keep conversations friendly and professional. Avoid being dragged into an argument," said Ken Godevenos, an independent human resources consultant in Newmarket, Ontario, Also, remind the person that everyone is evaluated according to their own merits--and make sure you have documentation to back everything up.

Mark Darby provides training on teamwork and communication to long term care organizations. He can he reached at or at
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Title Annotation:Special report: human resources
Author:Darby, Mark
Publication:Contemporary Long Term Care
Article Type:Cover Story
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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