Managing Expectations – How to Approach Difficult Employees

We all have good days, and we all have bad days. We also have that colleague or customer who is just…difficult? However, are they really, or do you just have a certain expectation of how people should behave?

That colleague who never responds with more than a polite ‘yes’ or ‘no’ might be focused, or even shy. That customer who doesn’t smile after you have jumped through hoops for them might have just received some shocking news, meaning that they are not engaged in the moment with you.

As a business manager, there are ways that you and your colleagues can better approach these situations, and much of it has to do with practising your leadership skills.

Appreciative Inquiry

Appreciative inquiry is a skill that helps guide people toward their strengths. When you ask questions using a positive framework, you guide people’s thinking toward what they can do or achieve.
Instead of asking ‘What do you think?’, guide the question toward action; ‘What can we do to change this situation?’ or ‘What developments do you foresee?’. Allowing people to answer questions in an active, solution-focused way empowers people and can help to draw a person out.
This type of questioning is a skill. To avoid sounding patronising, it is important that you listen to the response and actually attempt to implement the suggestions or engage with the response, otherwise, it is lip-service and you risk further alienating the person.

Lower Your Expectations

Not everyone has to behave the way you want them to all the time. In today’s busy world it is hard for people to compartmentalise. The expectation that people should ‘leave their baggage at the door’ is hardly realistic when their mobile phone is demanding that they respond to the latest Tweet.
We all have personal lives. For many people, this can mean juggling many balls that an employer is not aware of. Allowing your employees to focus on their work and not have to meet your expectations of workplace ‘bliss’ means that your colleagues are more likely to be productive and focused.
Hassling people to behave in a way that is uncomfortable for them can lead to high staff turnover rates, workplace discord and false accusations against a person who genuinely is trying to just do their job and who has no interest in conforming to a standard of ‘friendliness’ that is forced.
Be accepting of the nuances of people’s personalities and personal lives, and take control of your own behaviour. As long as the other person is responsive to the tasks assigned to them and not outright rude, then allowing them to control themselves will lead to a healthier workplace.

Show Respect

We all know those people who respond to negativity by being overly sweet. While this strategy might seem like a good idea, it is passive aggression in action and only pushes people further from the type of interaction that is productive.
When you treat someone with genuine respect, you are also accepting of the fact that the other person might not like you. That shouldn’t be an issue, as long as communication between you is open, direct and productive.
We don’t have to like everyone, but as a business manager (and a human being in general) you do have to show respect to everyone. Drop the ‘fake it till you make it’ act and just approach that difficult person with respect. It might even change the dynamic between you when both parties agree to work together.

Active Listening

A good business manager knows how to listen. Active listening is a skill, the importance of which many people overlook. Active listening means paying full attention to the person who is talking without formulating a response while they are talking and without allowing your mind to wander to the shopping list.
While this type of listening is not what we engage in all the time, when a colleague has a complaint or is showing that they have been unhappy for some time, it is time to sit down and really listen.
Sometimes our relationships in business can become strained because we don’t make time to listen to suggestions, or we make assumptions about situations. If you are too busy to listen to those who are doing the work, then you are likely to miss out on some valuable feedback that could save you and your business money, or see you approach new opportunities.

Having respectful relationships with all your team members is important for the overall business. Happy employees will remain with your company and will be more prepared to upskill, devote time to the business and commit to long-term contracts. High employee turnover increases your expenses and can have a negative effect on staff morale. Remembering that each person in your company has a personal life, stressors and moods will help you to strike a balance between an effective leader and approachable manager.

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