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Managing a ‘personality problem’

Shrewd tactics work better than giving in

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in Leaders & Managers,Workplace Communication

You can train someone to perform certain tasks well. But you can’t transform an obnoxious whiner into a dynamic leader.

If you have a competent employee with an unpleasant or immature personality, then you may wind up wasting countless hours playing referee among feuding workers. An otherwise adequate team member can become a major liability if he makes enemies through offensive behavior or antagonistic attitude.

If this individual meets all the job requirements, you might be tempted to ignore his antics and stand by as he becomes an entrenched nuisance. But here are smarter ways to cut the irritation level and address such failings head-on:

Make a match. Pair a difficult worker with someone who embodies the traits that you wish the troublemaker possessed. For example, if you’re fed up with a loudmouth who’s habitually indiscreet, assign that person to work on an intensive project with a tactful, soft-spoken performer.

Let the “role model” employee in on your strategy, but don’t micromanage their relationship. You don’t want the problem employee to feel self-conscious or somehow defective and in need of a personality overhaul (even if that’s precisely the case). Just put opposites together and force them to collaborate to achieve a goal.

Cut the jokes. Beware of ribbing an employee for his rough edges. If you poke fun at his nastiness, impatience or explosive temperament, you raise the threshold of acceptance for such behavior.

Instead, level with the individual privately about your concerns. In a supportive but serious tone, say, “I want to make you aware of an aspect of your behavior that has the potential to limit your effectiveness.” Then pinpoint the issue and ask two questions: “Does this surprise you?” and— after he acknowledges it’s a problem— ”What steps will you take to improve?”

Reward and punish. When you observe objectionable behavior, walk away. Don’t devote more attention to someone who’s acting up. Reward instances when the individual shows signs of improvement.

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