4 Tips for Dealing with Difficult Employees – Not!


Dirty Secrets of Small Business – Dealing with Difficult Employees

Over the last 15 years of being a small business coach, I have heard dozens of reasons why an individual will leave a seemingly “secure” corporate job to take the leap and start their own small business. One of the most popular reasons is that they want to be their own boss. Many folks believe that if they are the boss then they won’t have to deal with difficult people any more or the politics that are often associated with bigger corporations. And of course, they would never be a bad boss themselves! If it were only that simple!

Unfortunately one of the biggest challenges any business owner deals with is finding and retaining good people. The bigger you get, the more challenging it gets because you have more variables (i.e. more people). So instead of hoping and wishing you won’t have to deal with any difficult people, it’s best that you find some ways to deal with them effectively. This could include difficult employees, customers, vendors, etc. Remember, if you’re a business owner you are in the people business whether you like it or not.

A great concept from the Jim Collins book Good to Great was the idea of a “stop doing” list or what I refer to as a “not to do” list. Nearly everyone, especially business owners, has a “to do” list. Collins makes the argument that this “stop doing” list can actually be more important than a “to do” list when it comes to effectively running your organization.

One thing we constantly remind our business owner clients of is their “power” as the owner. Things you say and do get magnified by your team due to the fact that you as the owner are the “boss.”



Dealing With Difficult Employees

With that in mind, here are a few “not to dos” or “stop doings” when it comes to dealing with difficult employees in your organization:

1. Make Excuses

Everyone has bad days and moments, but difficult people are difficult most of the time. Unfortunately some of the most difficult people are the most “talented” people within an organization and the owner can often feel as if they are being held hostage to these talents, which leads the owner to make excuses for this employee’s bad behavior. If you’re finding yourself making too many excuses, stop it and address the difficult person. Chances are if you have to part ways with this person if they aren’t willing to change that your company will survive their departure.

2. Ignore It

While ostriches are amazing animals, you don’t want to be compared to one as a business owner by appearing to have your head in the sand when it comes to difficult employees. You will give this impression if you pretend like it doesn’t exist by ignoring what is happening, especially when it happens in your presence.

3. Allow Someone Else To Decide For You

Remember, you’re the owner and you get paid the big bucks for a reason (most of our business owner clients laugh when we refer to them this way as well)! As tempting as it might be to let someone else step in and do the dirty work, it’s ultimately your job to have these difficult discussions with difficult people.

4. Let It Result in Your Best People Leaving

If you don’t act or if you give the appearance that you aren’t going to do anything to address a difficult person, odds are you are going to risk chasing away your best people. Your best people won’t put up with this nonsense for very long since they are good and have other options. You don’t want to be left with only your difficult people hanging around.

One of the biggest challenges in a small business is that “difficult” person or people are often family members.This can make things worse because the non-family members who are part of the business will eventually give up hope that the difficult person will ever be put in check or removed from the organization.

If this is happening in your business, seek some outside guidance and help from a professional. We’ve been involved in hundreds of these situations over the years, and it’s far too emotional to deal with on your own. Bringing in an outsider who is objective can be invaluable in helping you not only decide what to do, but how to execute that decision.

There are a lot of options when dealing with difficult people whether they are family or not. If the “not to do” list above sounds familiar make sure you start doing things differently!

Customers Photo via Shutterstock

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Adam Sonnhalter


Adam Sonnhalter Adam Sonnhalter is the co-owner of Maximum Value Partners providing coaching and direction for the profitability and sustainability of small businesses. He is also co-host with Jack Mencini on the weekly radio show/podcast Dirty Secrets of Small Business® that debunks the common myths of business ownership, exposes the impact of government regulations and shares small business success stories.

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