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Philanthorpy and self actualization will cease to exist in this world if rain ceases to exist.

Seek First to Understand Difficult Employees


Udayakumar Nalinasekaren
Dec 21, 2010

Difficult Employee"Listen to difficult employess only while it is productive". I read this tweet and said to myself "How true!". To understand this better, we have to understand why people could potentially turn difficult to handle in the first place. Most people are good and motivate themselves to learn, align and contribute. Remembering Maslow's theory, people look for esteem and recognition ("I among Us") with time.

We will for a moment ignore the few who are difficult for the sake of being difficult.They come in through a hiring hole which needs to be identified and plugged. Others grow to be difficult over time if they dont see themselves properly positioned on two continuum namely alignment and opportunity. Some express their difficulty onto themselves and others do so on the organization/manager in very different ways.

The alignment continuum is about a person's strengths and how well those are leveraged in the day to day job assignments. Alignment is poor if weaknesses dominate the outcomes. The opportunity continuum is about the visibility and availability of potential areas of growth and contribution.

Alignment vs Opportunity Model

Zone 1 is mostly the zone in which new hires to a team or organization start. They work their way to the other zones. It is very much possible that mismanagement will leave some people in this zone.

The diagonally opposite zone 3 is the sweet spot. Opportunities are available for people to leverage their strengths and grow. If someone turns difficult in this zone, it could be a maturity or blindspot problem. A little bit of counselling or coaching can help depending on the context.

Zone 2 is a zone where the person feels unrecognized for his/her contribution. The remedy in zone 2 is recognition.

Zone 4 is where the person does not have the necessary strengths to excel in available opportunities. He/she could have either reached a level of incompetence or feels unprepared for the opportunity. In the later scenario, mentoring and/or counseling could be a remedy.

As we can see, in every zone, listening could yield productive results. A leader should seek first to understand root causes for the difficult behaviour. Once completely understood, the leader should deploy the right strategy - including having that final objective conversation.


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