"I'm so sick of my 'problem' employee"

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"I've tried everything...regular catch up meetings, delegating different tasks, encouraging them to join us in the pub on a Thursday evening....they just don't want to be part of the team. I'm at a loss as to what to do...I'm just so sick of my problem employee".

I'm sure that this will sound familiar to managers up and down the country. Every now and then you might find yourself managing someone who just doesn't want to play ball. You try all your usual tactics but nothing works and it's frustrating as hell. You want your team to be cohesive and high-performing but this person is the blocker. Over time, this sort of dynamic can damage relationships and create a potentially toxic environment across the team. So just how do you get that 'problem' person on board with you?

To understand how you can make the relationship work, it is important to first unpick why it hasn't worked. In most cases, the answer is simple...they just don't trust you. Building trusting relationships at work is crucial - it makes everything easier; from delegating work, to having difficult feedback conversations. But trust doesn't happen overnight, it builds over time. It would therefore seem that the answer to our dilemma is also simple...build trust with everyone and bingo! Problem solved! Of course, we know it is never that simple. So let's take another step back and before we work out how to build trust, let's think about why trust never formed in the first place.

It is important to be brutally honest. What did you first think about that person when they joined the team? Did you view them as a poor performer from day one? Did you already (unconsciously) view them as a bit of a problem? Did you decide you didn't 'click' with them from an early stage? How much quality time have you really spent with that individual? How much do you know about them? When you have those catch up meetings, does the conversation mostly revolve around work and nothing else? How do you rate their technical and interpersonal skills? etc.

The likelihood is that your 'problem' person is someone who is very different to you. Their personality is different, the way they approach their work is different, the way they interact with colleagues and clients is different. We know we ought to embrace difference, but in reality that is hard because our human instincts treat difference with suspicion. So the chances are that trust has failed to build between you and that person because of difference, which in turn will have impacted on your interactions with them (and of course the decisions you have made about them). 

There are a few simple steps you can take to help overcome this. First, consciously noting any differences can be a powerful thing. It helps us to slow our thinking down and re-frame our mind-set towards individuals. Second, openness and transparency about our differences is equally important. Why not openly acknowledge that you are different to one another and explore the things that you can learn from each other? Tell that person that it's okay to be different, that it's okay to be their authentic self. Of course there will be occasions when you won't see eye to eye, but being a good manager is not about encouraging acquiescence, it is about embracing the talent you have on your team. 

So next time you start thinking of someone as the 'problem' person, a few simple steps (and a lot of self-reflection) will help to slow your thinking down and re-frame your attitude towards them. Just because they are different to you doesn't necessarily mean they will become a 'problem'...they might just be your next star player!

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