How to Effectively Confront Difficult Employee Behavior as a Manager

Even though you may not want to think about it, and even though you may not have to deal with difficult people and their bad behavior when you first start as a manager, you will still need to handle a challenging employee at some point of your tenure.

Since not all employees are easy to manage all the time, and not everyone has their best day when they're at work, you need to learn now how to manage these situations effectively.

These can be situations in which a person can learn more about themselves, and about how they can serve their company better.

Or they can learn they may need to find another company.

Find Out What's Happening

When you first encounter a difficult employee, you need to remember that accurate information will be your best ally in the resolution of a tough situation.

You need to be absolutely certain you have the right information about what has happened, and what may still be happening.

To collect this information, it can help to:

  • Talk to the complainant – To begin your research, it will help to talk to the person who is complaining about the employee. This might be a team member, or a manager, or even a customer or client. Find out what they know, what they think, and what they want done about the situation.
  • Talk to the manager – Next, talk to the employee's manager to find out what they think and whether they have spotted a trend in behavior. You may also find out whether they have already talked to the person about the issue in the past, what has been done, and whether extenuating circumstances exist.
  • Talk to team members – Find out from co-workers what the employee is like, and whether they know about the situation. Learn more about what the employee does on a regular day and if the situation was one that was unique.
  • Look in the employee's file – Review the employee's file to see if there is anything on record about their behavior. See if this is the first time this has happened, or if there is a pattern of problems.

The more information you can collect, the more you will be able to see the actual truth in all of the data you find. You will be able to get a clearer picture than if you just talked to the person who was upset, or to the employee.

If you can't find out as much information as you'd like, then wait a little longer before talking to the employee. You want to make sure you're going into a meeting with the employee with the facts.

Talk With the Employee

In the end, you will want to talk to the employee about what you know, and what you think you know, about the situation. Find out from the employee what has happened and how they might explain the situation. See if you can learn as much as you can from them about their viewpoint and their thoughts on the matter.

  • Create a comfortable situation. You will want to have this conversation during a time when you and the employee will not be interrupted. Sit in your office or in a conference room where you can both feel able to talk openly, without anyone listening.
  • State what you know. Be clear about what you know and why you called the meeting. Talk about the facts, as you know them, and don't ascribe any meaning to them until you hear from the employee about what they think happened.
  • Ask for adjustments to what you know. It's a good idea to talk about how the employee might make adjustments to the facts, as you know them. They might understand things differently, or they might need to correct something that is simply not true.
  • Avoid using names. Whenever possible during the conversation, try to avoid using the names of the people who gave you the information. All the other person needs to know is that you have the information and that you believe it at the moment.
  • Avoid blaming. As you talk to the employee, remember that you are trying to find out what happened and how you can make things better. Try talking about the behavior, versus the person whose behavior it was. This will help to separate the person from the bad thing(s) that happened.
  • Suggest alternative behavior. With your company's vision and goals in mind, suggest other behaviors to the employee, explaining why you need them to act in a certain way. You can even ask the employee for solutions they might offer, and adjust them as needed.
  • Create a plan for resolution. Together, come up with a plan to resolve the situation, or to change the behavior. When you do this work together, it's less about the manager telling the employee what to do, and more about the manager and the employee figuring out what might work better.
  • Name a timeline for change.To keep progress on track, it can help to name a timeline for the changes that are agreed upon. This way, there can be check-ins on progress.

Of course, the plan -- and how it is created -- will change depending on the situation. In some cases, you don't need to do anything more than just have one person tell the other person they are sorry.

In other cases, you might need a more detailed and defined plan. And to create that, you need to spend a little more time together with this employee.

Determining the Plan for Success

When you need to do more than just talk out things with an employee, it can help to create a plan that starts with:

  • Define the goals. From the start, the plan should begin with the "why" of this plan. You should both agree upon why you are drawing up this plan together, and what it means for the company.
  • Consider possible solutions. It can be helpful to next brainstorm about what should happen, and what change might look like when you've figured out what's in need of change.
  • Review the systems. Think about how the person does their work and see if there are system issues that might be contributing to the behaviors you don't want to see.
  • Create accountability. Find out how the employee can be accountable for their actions. This might include regular check-ins, or it might be that the employee needs to be supervised daily.

This document should be written up and signed by both parties to ensure it's a part of the official record. The paper can go into the employee's file where other managers will see it in the future.

If the problem seems to be something that is short-term, the document might be destroyed after a certain time period without any repeat offenses, but it's recommended the document stay in the employee's file for at least a year.

Interested in learning more? Why not take an online Management Essentials course?

The employee then knows this document will be there when being considered for raises and promotions, as well as position changes. Their actions need to have consequences.

And accountability can inspire long-term changes.

Following Up on Changes

Once the plan is written up and the employee has signed it and you have signed it, you need to make sure you're following up on what happened next.

Though you may not feel you need to follow up, it's a good process to follow when you want change to happen permanently. Here are some ways you can easily and effectively follow up.

  • Schedule regular meetings. Sitting down to talk with the employee about their progress is a good idea, as is ensuring that you:
  • Review the plan regularly with the employee. As a part of the meeting, you can talk about the plan you have drafted, and whether any changes need to be made. This makes it a living, breathing document, which can help to ensure the process is more realistic for the employee.
  • Check in with other managers and team members. Find out from other people what they have noticed about the team member's progress, or lack thereof. Let the employee know that you will be checking in with others on their team from time to time.

The more you continue to be a presence during this process, the more the employee will need to come to terms with the decisions they have made.

And during this process, the employee can decide whether they are willing to move forward, or if they want to take another step to leaving the company.


Difficult employees will emerge during your career as a manager. While they will not be a constant source of challenge, hopefully, knowing how to deal with situations effectively and productively can show you care about their future and are willing to give them another chance.

Managing a Diverse Team

It's interesting to look at company teams today, as they're not always in the same room, or the same building, or even the same country. With the invention and utilization of the Internet, companies have discovered that they are able to hire people around the world to get their work done.

While this might be the new way that things are done, that doesn't necessarily mean you will know how to manage in this widespread arrangement.

Instead, you need to think differently about a few things, and manage your global team with a new approach.

Where Your Team Is

Consider, first, how you will determine where your team is and where they are located for work, versus their home. Some people are often traveling the world as they work, so this question has become more difficult to answer for some companies.

When you step into your manager role, create a list of your employees and where they are located for work, but also create a time zone list so you understand where they are and how you can reach them.

You may also want to learn their mailing address, so you can send them documentation and other materials, as needed.

Create a list and have it readily available so you can easily understand who is on your team and what their actual location might be at any given hour, on any given day.

In addition to physical location, find out:

  • Email addresses
  • Phone numbers
  • Messaging user IDs
  • Social media accounts

All of this information will give you easier access to your team, and reduce the impact that distance may have on your leadership abilities.

Staying in Contact

The key to being an effective manager is to stay in contact with the people who are on your team, no matter what time of day it is, and no matter where they might be.

Once you have their contact information, you will need to reach out to your team regularly. Here are some ways you can do this and make sure everyone feels like they are a part of your team.

  • Connect frequently. How you define the idea of "frequently" is up to you as a manager, but when you're new to management, it can help to talk to your team every day, if possible. The more you reach out, the more involved you can be and the more involved you will seem.
  • Connect in real time. Since you may be scattered around time zones, it can be challenging to connect with everyone in real time. Make sure that you try to connect in real time for at least 50 percent of your meetings and conversations, as this will help you be more productive during the conversations.
  • Use messaging services. It can also help to have messaging services (i.e. Skype, Google Hangouts) open during business hours so everyone can talk to each other when they have questions or concerns. Plus, these services are free and available in most areas, so they're ideal for global business.
  • Be flexible. Though you might be the manager and you might want the team to adjust to your needs, remember that you have to lead others and to do so, you need them to know yo
  • Continue conversations. While it might not seem important to miss answering an email from time to time, this isn't helpful when your team is scattered around the globe. You needu care about them. So, be flexible with your time and your methods of communication, especially at first. to make sure you're always answering their emails and attending to their needs as quickly as you can.

Staying in contact is simple, but it does take effort. However, if you think about it, this is really no different than talking with co-workers who are in the room with you. You just need to keep time zones in mind and be open to allowing technology help you stay connected.

Navigating Cultural Differences

Another situation to remember when you're a manager of a global team is that not all of your team may share the same culture and background. Though this might not seem relevant, it can impact the way that you communicate and work together.

There are a few things that you should keep in mind as you manage a global team:

  • Language – In some cases, you may have difficulties with the language of your team, especially if you are not fluent in their dialect or accustomed to their accent. To manage this, it can help to employ the support of someone who can speak English and the language, to help you begin to understand what is being communicated. In time, you will become accustomed to language and accents, but it can be challenging at first. Or you can work with someone else on your team who is more familiar and eager to help you learn how to effectively exchange ideas.
  • Priorities – Some workers from other areas may not understand how important it is to complete Task A, versus Task B. Though this might seem clear to you, you may need to establish clearer deadlines to ensure everyone is following the same guidance and schedule.
  • Holidays and schedules – You may need to keep in mind that local and cultural holidays and times when you are working with a global team. Since they have other needs besides the "typical" holidays, the more you can keep these other days in mind, the more you will gain the respect of the workers.
  • Family life – In addition, cultural events may impact the family life of your workers, which might impact the way they work on a day-to-day basis. Though this will not be the case all the time, it is something to keep in your head as you lead cross-cultural teams.
  • Time management – Some workers may not have the same understanding of when they should arrive to meetings as other workers on your team. True, this isn't limited to being something to navigate with global teams, but it's something to keep in mind.

The more you begin to think about how you can work with a team that may not share the same schedule or ideas as you, the more effective a leader you will be.

When you know how to communicate and what to keep in mind, you will be able to get the most from all of your employees.

How to Communicate

When you are in a situation where an employee communicates in a different way than you do, what can you do to facilitate clear conversations?

  • Use translation services. For simple translations, it can help to use online translation software.
  • Find a translator. However, it's better to employ the services of a live translator, as there are nuances in every language that software can't predict or interpret accurately.
  • Write down conversations. To make sure everyone has the same idea about what they are doing and what is expected of them, it's best to write down the goals and the conversations in a document. In this way, the information is detailed and yet also black and white, and easily translated.
  • Allow time for clarification. It is always best to leave some time in the timeline for clarification to occur. Since it may not be possible for the employee to completely understand what you mean, you will want to leave space for questions and clarifications.
  • Be clear about expectations. The clearer you can be with your expectations about the end results, the easier it will be for someone to follow directions.
  • Give visual examples. If you can provide visual examples of what you want to happen, this may provide more guidance.
  • Allow for adjustment time. You may also want to add some time in the timeline for revisions and adjustments. While you may not need this extra time as you begin to understand your global team and how they will work with you; it can help to be ready for delays.

The more you practice communicating with others, the more effective you will be in communicating with anyone – local or international.


The idea of a global team is much more than an idea these days. With the Internet and online meeting options, teams are now spread around the world. Learning how to communicate effectively, and how to navigate cultural differences, can help you manage these teams to success.