Four Difficult Types of Employees: Feedback Do’s and Don’ts

by Lindenberger, Judith Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Contact Us
Lincoln, NE
phone: 800-984-3775
Send email
About Us
Whether you are dealing with a difficult person or motivating someone to be a more positive contributor, employee feedback is a powerful management tool. Many of us work with these four difficult types of employees and the guidance below will help you have constructive feedback sessions:

The Bomb - an unguided missile who has a track record of bursts of anger.

Keep in mind the time-honored adage that you can’t control another person, but you can control what you say. Start by thinking through what you need to get out of this feedback session. How can you frame the conversation so he gets it? Be prepared to speak clearly and concisely, and don’t back down.

Think about the conversation like a game of chess and strategize. If he does get angry, what might he do and say? How will you respond in a way that’s calm, positive, and firm so you can move the conversation in the direction it needs to go?

If you find yourself losing control and getting angry, end the meeting and reschedule. And, if you think the employee could become violent, have a third person—perhaps from HR—with you during the meeting.

Mr. Thin Skin - a solid performer who has blind spots – and needs to improve in specific areas. The problem: The person is extremely sensitive and already thinks he’s doing A work.

With a thin-skinned staffer, you can help him overcome his fears by choosing from a mix of strategies:
  • Frame the conversation so that the improvement sounds like a challenge instead of criticism. You might say something like this: “Because of the way you do X and Y, you are really valuable to our organization. So I want to talk about what we could do to help you get to the next level. Would you be willing to talk about that?”
  • Share how you see this employee’s performance and note how it differs from the employee’s perception. Give specific examples that support your observations
  • Avoid surprises. Don’t spring bad news on him. Let him know that agreeing to take on a challenging improvement program won’t lead to a bad performance review down the line. Then give the feedback about the needed improvement clearly and concisely, with no apologies. The fewer words, the better. Allow time for silence as he thinks through what you’ve said. He may even want to end the conversation and continue it the next day to talk further.
  • Consider suggesting 360-degree feedback from colleagues. Explain that this is a way of collecting data—a way to learn about others’ perceptions of his strengths and weaknesses so he can improve accordingly. The process can be a valuable tool for career development. But if the person is terrified by the prospect, do not force it.
The Waterfall - a notorious weeper.

It is important to be sensitive to your employees’ needs – but you cannot let the chronic crier manipulate you through their emotions (whether they are doing it on purpose or not).

For the next challenging conversation you have to have with The Waterfall, make sure you have tissues in the room. Close the door. Then be prepared to sit it out, sympathetically but calmly, until they can pull themselves together and talk about how to deal with the performance issue.

Ms. Treading Water - performance is tolerable but really needs to be much better.

Before the meeting: Think through what the person is doing right as well as what you want to see improved. Then consider what you know about what motivates her—and if you don’t know, plan to find out during the discussion.

During the discussion: Start with the positive. Talk about which parts of her performance are acceptable and what you want her to keep doing.

Then talk about the context—what your organization or the competition is doing, and why that requires even better performance. Move from there into her own motivators. Does she want a bigger salary or a promotion? Then, if she is to reach her goals, she needs to improve her performance.

The approach is like basic sales: You’re trying to sell her on the need to make progress, and the best way is to tailor your pitch so it will resonate and she’ll buy in.

Finally, get into the specifics of how to improve. Does she understand what needs to be done? What training and equipment does she need? What deadline is feasible for making the improvement? What accomplishments will you watch for along the way?

If the feedback doesn’t take: Sometimes folks just don’t advance despite your efforts to boost both their training and motivation. So you have to ask yourself: Is this a position I can afford to allow to remain acceptable—or must I raise the bar?

If she does a job that is not mission-critical but nevertheless hard to fill, you may decide you have to live with her. But if there’s a business need for performance at a higher level, you must be willing to go down the path toward termination.

Realize she may need to feel she has some control over the improvement process. Some people find it terrifying to be out of control of what’s going to happen. In that case, ask her to come up with a plan for improvement, including needed resources. The more she gets involved in solving the problem, the more she will feel she’s doing what she wants to do, not what you’ve demanded. After you have developed the plan together, be sure to follow up regularly.