How to Handle the 3 Toughest Behaviors in the Work Environment

Everyone knows that the toughest part of any management job is dealing with people! In fact, we know of some outstanding technicians who were rewarded by their companies by promoting them to supervisory roles … only to have these amazing super star employees quit out of frustration! That’s why it is so important to provide people skill training to anyone, at any level, who will be managing people. With the right skills, a good supervisor can  engage employees in a way that eliminates the problems and boosts productivity!

From our experience, here are three of the toughest behaviors in the work environment—along with some tips on how to handle them effectively. See how many of these behaviors you are experiencing right now … and take action. Your whole team will thank you!

Negative PersonTough Behavior #1: The Naysayer

How to Recognize:

  • Uses the phrase “This won’t work because . . .”
  • Generally critical of anything new or different
  • Finds the negative or down side of any idea that is presented

Rx for your Leadership Toolkit:

  • Sanction the “Devil’s Advocate” Role. Appoint this individual with the responsibility of identifying potential problems and  taking on the viewpoint of “the other side.” This deflects some of the negativity and irritation this person can create.
  • Do a “Pluses/Problems Chart” for each idea. Draw a line down the middle of a piece of chart paper, with a + on one side and a — on the other. Then brainstorm all the pluses for the idea (which forces the Naysayer to stay positive or stay quiet); then brainstorm the Problems side, which identifies potential concerns, blocks to success, or barriers to be overcome (which forces the others to look at possible issues of concern that can often be overlooked in the midst of excitement about an idea).
  • Have data to support your ideas. (In other words, do your homework! Anticipate the objections or negative comments and plan your responses.)
  • Agree with the naysayer first, then offer your opinion [i.e., “You’re right; that didn’t work the last time we did it; however, by learning from our mistakes, why don’t we try this . . .”]


LonerTough Behavior #2: The Loner

How to Recognize:

  • Uses the phrase “I’ll do it myself.”
  • Doesn’t participate in team activities.
  • Won’t share information unless specifically asked; generally non-communicative.

Rx for your Leadership Toolkit:

  • Recognize that some people have a work style preference that is Reflective and Introspective. Because they tend to think through what they want to say before they verbalize it, their comments are often unheard or overshadowed by more extroverted team members. Be sure to allow time for everyone to be heard.
  • Provide info, agenda, questions ahead of time, which gives the reflective individuals time to prepare their comments ahead of time.
  • Try non-threatening, low involvement first, as a way to draw everyone in. Avoid putting a loner on the spot. And for every interactive element you include, be sure to debrief the results so everyone know how it relates to their work.
  • Be specific in clarifying expectations of a “team player” so everyone is clear on what you are looking for.


Walk the Line PerformerTough Behavior #3: The “Walk the Line” Performer

How to Recognize:

  • Does exactly what is required — but not one bit more.
  • Pushes rules to the limit — tests authority.
  • Uses all sick leave; drains the enthusiasm and initiative of others.

Rx for your Leadership Toolkit:

  • Be very clear about your expectations and consequences.
  • Be sure your expectations are realistic and fair.
  • Look for a “rallying goal” — motivation/purpose.
  • Ask them what it would take to get them excited about work.
  • Use good feedback techniques on a regular basis, and follow through on discipline.  (This sounds so obvious, but in our years of working with supervisors we have found this is the #1 issue!) 

More about “Walk the Line” Performers: It may be a more beneficial use of your energy and time to focus on inspiring the rest of your team, as long as this person is performing at the required minimum. We have discovered from our work with supervisors that the “Backbone” and “Super Star” employees often get ignored because of all the energy  expended dealing with the low performers.

Don’t be afraid to cut a poor performer loose. Everyone knows about the problem, and allowing it to fester only serves to demoralize your exceptional, engaged employees. Employees who are actively disengaged are also actively seeking to win others over to their way of thinking and behaving. Can you really afford to have them in the workplace?

Research IconResearch supports our findings. One recent study indicates that simply having unmotivated employees in the workplace is often enough to affect the moods of other employees. … The final and most blatant sign of disengagement is outright complaining.  If you hear employees complaining about issues around your workplace, it means they’re dissatisfied and they feel that the company’s goals are not in line with their own goals.  Nothing is more infectious and damaging to employee spirit than constant complaints. (Khakhria, H., Employee Engagement Ideas to Combat the Walking Dead, Randstad Canada Blog, Posted on October 30, 2012).

To keep employees engaged and productive, it is your job as a leader to handle inappropriate behaviors quickly, and create an environment conducive to teamwork, initiative, and growth.

About Cher & Bil Holton

Since 1984, Cher & Bil Holton have been co-owners of The Holton Consulting Group, Inc., helping corporate and association clients enhance bottom-line results using cutting edge employee engagement. Their keynote speeches, turbo-training, and coaching sessions are practical, grounded in research, and lots of fun to boot! They are prolific authors, and take "Indiana Jones" vacations to continually stretch their limits!
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