Conflict is inevitable wherever people can interact with one another, and this includes office environments. Over the course of attending to your responsibilities as a leader or manager, you will inevitably run into certain situations where you will have to resolve conflicts between your people. In fact, such instances may already be taking up a good chunk of your workdays.

However, if smoothing quarrels over and keeping the peace is preventing you from doing actual work that needs to be done, it may be time to get to the root of the problem. Unfortunately, some inter-office disagreements are not just the result of team members with differing beliefs butting heads. In the worst of cases, you may be dealing with the disruptive behaviours of a particularly difficult employee, or perhaps even a whole group of them.

Dealing with difficult people can be quite a challenge, of course, but allowing the situation to go on unchecked can have numerous adverse effects on employee morale, productivity, and the workplace culture at large. Take the issue head-on by becoming a more influential communicator and using these tips to manage difficult employees:

Start with Meaningful Training

By far, the easiest way to prevent disruptive behaviours from wreaking havoc in the workplace is to create an environment where they cannot flourish in the first place. This is something that can be accomplished through training.

Indeed, a lot of companies nowadays are investing in civility training for all of their employees. Through these courses, they can learn about business etiquette, cultural sensitivity, as well as diversity awareness. This can go a long way towards creating a pleasant and respectful work environment where all employees can maintain their composure and professionalism even during stressful situations.

At the same time, it may be useful for those in managerial or leadership roles to also receive basic training in conflict resolution and people management. Courses like these can help managers and team leaders develop and improve their communication skills, thus empowering them to overcome challenging situations brought on by interpersonal conflicts in the office.


Disruptive behaviours in the workplace can take many different forms. Often the employees who exhibit these behaviours don’t do so out of any malicious intent. In most cases, difficult employees are only acting out because they feel that they aren’t being listened to. Managers can exacerbate that impression when they choose to ignore problems or have already made their minds up about the situation.

As a leader, your best shot at making things better with a difficult employee is to clearly and completely understand what’s going on with them. Take some time out to see things from the employee’s point of view. It may make the solution to their issue more quickly apparent. Even if it does not immediately solve the issue, the employee might start acting differently once they know you are listening to them.

Provide Clear and Actionable Feedback

As a manager, one of your responsibilities is to provide feedback to your employees. Sadly, a surprising number of people in senior positions don’t know how to offer feedback that will be helpful and constructive to their team members. The task can be made even more difficult if the feedback in question is something that may be uncomfortable for the other person to hear.

It’s always hard to tell someone that they’re doing something that isn’t working, and even tougher to say that they need to change. There’s always the possibility that the employee will react angrily or defensively. However, you can mitigate the situation by listening and showing empathy.

When you offer feedback, focus on the problematic behaviours, not the person. And at the end of the conversation, make sure that you outline your expectations of them clearly. This will help them know exactly how to correct themselves so as not to repeat those behaviours in the future. You can also try coming up with a solution with the employee, as they may be more amenable to change if they feel that they have some level of control over it.

Document Everything

Managers have to juggle several responsibilities on a daily basis, which can make it harder to pay attention to everything happening in the workplace. This means possibly missing out on problematic behavioural patterns your employees might exhibit, which can be an issue if you don’t catch them until it’s too late.

That said, it’s important to have a record of every interaction you have with any employee who’s being difficult, even first-time offenders. This way, you’ll be able to track any patterns and determine if any employees have made trouble-making a habit. Having detailed accounts of these misbehaviours will also make it easier to decide whether or not you should let that person go when push comes to shove.

Managing a difficult employee can be incredibly stressful, but these techniques can help you avoid spending a disproportionate amount of time and emotional energy on them. Keep these tips in mind so that you can address problematic situations more quickly. By doing so, you can immediately get back to working on the projects that most deserve your attention.

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