4 Steps to Managing the Unmanageable

Having a difficult employee to manage can be a real nightmare.  You know the employee I am talking about.  They have a bad attitude, they question everything (usually to criticize), and they do not take criticism/feedback well without blowing up or better yet acting passive/aggressive. It seems that no matter how much you draw upon your management/leadership skills; it feels like you cannot get this employee under control – they are simply unmanageable!

Managing difficult employees is not easy but it can be done.  These are the things that I have found work really well when dealing with the “unmanageable”:  

  1. Confront the Problem:  It is important to tackle the problem and act quickly. In my experience, employees behave badly because they have never been held accountable for their behavior (i.e. previous supervisors won’t deal with them because they were easier to ignore than manage).  The problem will not fix itself and as managers it is part of our jobs to manage – Isn’t that what we get paid to do?
  2. Address the Behavior, Not the Person:  Focus on the inappropriate behavior; don’t attack the person.  By attacking, we behave no better than the employee we are trying to change.  We are just providing fuel to their discontent.  As you talk with a difficult employee, actively listen to what they say and stay calm and positive.  It is important to remain impartial and non-judgmental when they are explaining what caused them to behave inappropriately.  By doing this, you may be able to find the source of the bad behavior which gives you a better chance of finding a solution. Isn’t your job as a manager to develop a solution, not to “win”?
  3. Come to a Solution:  The desired result from confronting a difficult employee’s inappropriate behavior is to find an agreed upon solution.  This can be accomplished by giving the employee the chance to provide input into the solution.  Make sure they agree to the solution.  This helps with them “owning” their behavior and acting responsible for it.
  4. Set Clear Expectations Moving Forward:  Provide examples of what you expect from their behavior moving forward.  Make sure that they reiterate back to you what you expect so there is no miscommunication or misunderstanding.  It is best to document the expectations via a memo/letter especially repeat offenders.  And let them know the consequences that will happen should they continue to behave poorly (i.e. progressive discipline, termination).  Remember they agreed to this solution; now they need to be held accountable to act appropriately.

By trying these steps, you can know that as a manager you have done your best by acting responsibly, ethically, and legally.  It also makes for positive employment relations and good management practice.   

photo credit 


About Patricia Knight
Hello and welcome. My name is Patricia Knight. Thank you for taking the time to view my blog. I’m a Human Resources professional who is currently pursing an MBA at the University of Nevada-Reno. I am an analytical, detail-oriented professional who believes that collaboration and negotiation are critical for successful employee relations between leadership and employees.

2 Responses to 4 Steps to Managing the Unmanageable

  1. Sreejithkaranthattil says:


  2. Leaders Broadcast says:

    Reblogged this on Leaders Broadcast.

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