How to deal with a resistant employee!

Q: A few weeks ago, I started a new job as accounting manager. When the old manager left, it was rumored that one of the senior employees in the department was going to get the job. I understand that as a rule, the company first looks to promote from within but for whatever reason, they decided to conduct an outside search. The problem I have now is dealing with this particular employee. His attitude towards me is really negative. He’s argumentative, curt, confrontational, defiant, and I also noticed that the quality of his work suffers, which puts more on the plate of his co-workers, including myself. It’s affecting the department and I just don’t know how to resolve this and put it to bed once and for all so, I hope you can help me with a few suggestions. All I want is for everyone to do their jobs and do it well, that’s all!! Robert, thank you for your time and consideration. Marianne

A: Hello Marianne. Before you speak with this employee, may I suggest that you conduct some form of research or investigation about him? First, focus on identifying potential reason(s) for his negativity and inappropriate communication. Take a step back and look for potential root cause(s). Contact Human Resources and ask to review past performance appraisals as well as any documentation that may be in his file. The objective here is to find out whether his negative demeanor and performance issues have been recorded or documented by your predecessor(s). If so, your presence in the department may have exacerbated the situation, but is not likely the cause. Perhaps that is the reason why he wasn’t ultimately considered and chosen to fill the vacancy and a decision was made to recruit from outside; food for thought! If through your investigation you see no indication of a pattern, then it is safe to presume that you being there may have a lot to do with what you are experiencing.

If this is the case, it is important to empathise with the employee. Try to imagine how you would feel if the table was turned. Put yourself in his shoes and try to understand where he is coming from. I think it’s fair to say that most of us would certainly feel disappointed, even resentful of the new manager. Marianne, your willingness to identify and understand the reason(s) for this employee’s feelings about this situation will undoubtedly be of great assistance to you both, when speaking with him. What you have to contend with here is a behavioural/attitudinal issue, which has permeated to his performance. It is important to note and understand that whether his issue(s) began when you started the job or is identified as a pattern, your objective remains the same;

You want this employee to conduct himself in a professional and appropriate manner and perform to expectation.

Let us assume that your presence is the cause;

His attitude towards you and his work is likely a projection of his feelings about the company. For all you know, he may have been promised the job. In any case, I sense that it’s not you he’s retaliating against, it’s your mutual employer; you just happen to be in the line of fire, as unpleasant as it may be. It is essential that you communicate this observation to him as this is incredibly powerful leverage. This will help him understand that you had nothing to do with the company’s decision and that you do not want to suffer the brunt of his anger anymore, it simply isn’t fair and equitable treatment. You may also wish to suggest that he contact the individual(s) or hiring committee involved in the selection process so he can understand the basis for the decision.

The second issue is the quality of his work. Again, focus on helping him understand that not performing to expectations is adding to his co-worker’s work load, including your own. In a nutshell, it’s affecting the operation of the department. You MUST use concrete, real-time examples so he can relate. Not many; two or three will do. Speak with him about the specific issues you need to be changed. Perhaps some training or coaching on your part could solve the performance piece of this puzzle.

Lastly, look at what he’s doing right and let him know what you observed in that respect since you have been the manager. This is called positive recognition and is used as a powerful motivator for both change and consistency of delivery, whether behavioural or performance.

This is not an easy situation to deal with and ultimately resolve. Remain calm, listen attentively, and focus on reaching your objective which is;

You want this employee to conduct himself in a professional and appropriate manner and perform to expectation.

Remember to demonstrate empathy when speaking with him. It will go a long way!!

In my training programs, one of many communication strategies I teach is how to formulate and ask open-ended and probing questions. In this way, we engage others to communicate and respond appropriately by answering our question(s). As such, limit the use of simple questions – or those that require a simple “yes” or “no answer, as they seriously impact levels of engagement. The use of open-ended questions ensures that communication is shared, so as to have both parties participate in the resolution of ANY conflict. 5WH Questions are terrific to use; Questions starting with What, Where, When, Who, and How as well as “Are you aware that…of…?” and “Do you realize that….?” Are another couple of examples of strong open-ended/probing questions.

The majority of us has a tendency to make statements when communicating with others, particularly in conflict situations, where emotions surface and corrupt our initial intent and subsequent communication style. I’m not suggesting not to use statements but do so wisely; avoid accusatory and intimidating tones at all cost. I suggest roughly 70% questions, and the remaining 30% statements but above all, remain calm, cool, and collected.

I hope my suggestions help you in resolving this issue. I would love to read from you again once you have dealt with this unfortunate situation. Remember Marianne, I am here to help…good luck!

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