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I am the manager of a very difficult staff member. Although he is excellent in the quality of his work, his
interpersonal skills create significant problems in the workplace. This team member creates conflict
with other staff, to the point where I have had people in tears in my office. This behaviour has gone on
for a long time, before my time as his manager and I know I need to address it. I have been avoiding this
conversation because I know he won’t take it well. How do I go about this the right way?
DEALING WITH CONFLICT
IN THE WORKPLACE
You have taken the first impor tant
step of identifying that this
employee’s behaviour needs to be
addressed. Per forma nce in the
workplace is more than just
meeting targets and achieving ser vice and
task-r elated goals. The negative behaviour
of one person in a team may have wider
implications for other team members if this
were to continue.
My fir st piece of advice for any concer ning
behaviour, even if it is mino r, is “if you see
something , say something”. All behaviour
has meaning, even if the behaviour is not
expressed in a socially appropriate way.
This is why it is valuable to initially approach
any issue with care and concern. We do
not know if your difficult employee has
personal, physical or mental health issues
that impac t on how he communicates in
the workplace so it is useful to make this
type of assumption first. Here are some
specific strategies to address your concer ns
with this employee:
Schedule an informal catch up in a
private setting – whether that be
through usual super vision or an invite
to a meeting with you. When I say
informal, I recommend you do not
take copious notes in front of your
employee the first time you raise
your concerns. Note your
conver sation later.
Jot down some points to discuss with
your employee. Only note behaviour s
you have noticed about him – whether
you have directly obser ved them or
r epor ted to you by employees. You
do not need to label or judge the
behaviours with emotion words such
as “depressed”, “sad” or “angr y”.
During the first meeting, you might
introduce your concerns by saying
something like “I have noticed over
the past few months/weeks, you have
r aised your voice and stood over
(another staff member’s name). This
has made me wor ried so I thought I’d
check in with you. Are you ok? ”. Allow
the employee to provide you with
their opinion regarding your concer ns.
If the employee admits that he is
experiencing significant distress or
has a mental illness, you can then
make allowances for this and come
up with a plan to suppor t this
employee. E mployer s are obligated to
make reasonable adjustments in the
workplace if they can.
If the employee denies that he has
a problem, you may still initially
offer suppor t as you would still
be concerned about how he
commu nicates at work and book
another meeting for a week ’s time.
Schedule a follow-up meeting
regardless of the outcome of this
If your wor kplace has an E mployee
Assistance Progr am, provide the
brochure and contact details in case
they would like to talk to someone
outside of the workplace.
If the employee continues to behave in
a negative manner and also continues
to deny any personal or work-related
stress, then unfor tunately you need
to consider for mal per formance
Suppor ting this difficult employee is an
indirect way of suppor ting all employees
and ensur ing a safe wor kplace for ever yone.
If you need fur ther advice, contact your
HR manager. I also highly recommend a
publication by the Australian Human Rights
Commission titled Workers With Mental
Illness : A Practical Guide For Managers.
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