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Clip those thorns

The art of managing prickly personalities

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in Leaders & Managers,Office Management,Workplace Communication

Most of your employees are sources of pride and satisfaction— but then there are the prickly, inflexible people who sap your energy.

They’re poor listeners. They don’t follow instructions because they think they know better. They can’t stand even gentle criticism.

Here’s how to take out the burrs:

Avoid “should” statements. Prickly people don’t want you to tell them how to do something. If you do, they’ll give you a dozen reasons why they can’t.

Replace “You should...” with nonthreatening questions such as “How are you handling this?” and “How will you measure your success?” Use their answers to arrive at an action plan that works for both of you.

Give feedback that sticks. You’ve learned that criticizing these folks only makes them worse. But you need your input to sink in.

Experiment with different approaches. Example: Don’t tell them what’s wrong. Instead, let them complete a project and then write up what’s good and bad about it. If that doesn’t work, ask them to rate themselves. Hold them accountable for meeting clear standards.

Create urgency. Ornery people are at their worst when they can afford to act out. But if they’re under strict deadlines to produce results, they may not have the luxury of lapsing into their “normal” selves.

“I had a guy who had to do everything his way,” says the owner of three carpet stores. “When I told him we had to move inventory by year-end, which was only a few weeks away, he became more focused and action-oriented. His old habits kind of disappeared.”

To lay on the pressure, set goals and say, “It’s up to you to get this done in 30 days.” Then leave them alone for a month. If they fail to deliver, help them absorb the consequences, analyze what went wrong and figure out how they can improve.

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