There are all sorts of unwanted consequences that can arise from having people with negative attitudes in your organization, from a generally unpleasant atmosphere in the workplace to a high risk of making a bad impression on customers.
Considering how big a problem this can be, you need to be prepared with a strategy for dealing with employees whose mindset and behavior is starting to have serious consequences for the company.
1. Stay calm and professional
It's easy for emotions to get in the way when you're dealing with difficult, disruptive employees whose behavior is having a serious impact on the business, their colleagues and possibly even you personally.
One of the most important things to remember at these times is the importance of maintaining a professional demeanor. Managing the situation in a calm and level-headed manner will help to ensure your conversations with the employee stay as harmonious as possible, which is the best way to make progress and find a satisfactory solution.
2. Don't take negative attitudes personally
You'll often receive negative feedback and complaints from your staff that are perfectly valid and justified. In these situations, it's important to use this input in a constructive way.
Take the information you're given and use it as an opportunity to learn where the business could be doing better. Involving employees in the process of making positive changes will show they're being heard and getting the opportunity to participate in how the company is evolving.
However, you'll also have experiences of dealing with people who contribute little to the business other than negativity and constant criticism. In these scenarios, it's crucial to maintain your emotional distance and not to view every complaint as a personal attack or a true reflection of the organization's performance.
3. Don't pass judgment without listening
Based on what you've already seen of this employee and what you've heard their co-workers say about them, you might think your mind's made up before even talking to them.
But it's important to remember that, however difficult and disruptive certain individuals are being, they're still entitled to fair treatment, which means giving them an opportunity to speak about any underlying issues that could be influencing their behavior.
This could help you get to the root cause of their problems at work, which will be crucial if you want to implement lasting solutions and show your commitment to supporting your workforce and treating everyone equally.
4. Give specific, actionable feedback
Continuing the theme of taking a positive, forward-looking approach, one of the best ways to move on from the employee behaviors causing problems in your workplace is to provide feedback that people can act on.
Rather than talking in vague terms about the individual's behavior, be specific by giving examples of times when their conduct has fallen short of what you would expect and has consequently had an impact on their co-workers and the business as a whole.
This provides a starting point for actionable advice and information about how they could behave differently, as well as what the company is willing to do to help them in this process.
5. Use inclusive language
One of the pitfalls you should be careful to avoid when dealing with difficult employees is making the individual feel like they're being attacked and they don't have the opportunity to defend themselves or look for a positive route out of the situation.
This often comes down to language. Simple changes like starting sentences with 'we' instead of 'you' can make a big difference to the overall tone of a potentially difficult conversation, the direction it takes and the results it delivers.
For example, 'We've clearly been having some problems in the workplace recently that we should talk about', is a much more positive conversation starter than, 'You're causing problems in the workplace and you need to do something about it'.
6. Keep a record of serious incidents
Unfortunately, however hard you try to work positively with difficult employees and keep potentially toxic situations under control, there's always a risk of circumstances escalating and leading to serious incidents.
Whether it's explosive arguments that make people feel threatened or even instances of workplace violence, it's important to keep a record of these sorts of events. Talk to as many people as possible who were either involved or witnessed the incident first-hand, to ensure you get a fair and unbiased account of what really happened.
This could prove crucial if, at a later date, you need to justify steps such as disciplinary action or dismissing an employee. Written records of the behavior and misconduct that led to their dismissal could protect you against a wrongful termination lawsuit or accusations of unfair treatment.