Hard to handle? Nah, you can do it!

unruly employeeBeing a manager requires you to learn to adapt your own leadership style to mesh with a variety of personality types. But some classic employee personality types seem to inherently present challenges, even to the most seasoned managers.

Here are three of the hardest personality types you’ll come across—and how to manage them.

Tough employee #1

The pot stirrer

An office pot stirrer can create plenty of water cooler huddles, but take heart: Workplace gossip isn’t always negative. MIT researchers have found that workplace socialization boosts the collective productivity of a department. In fact, your employees with the most social connections at work tend to be most productive.

But when you manage an office pot stirrer who architects a steady stream of negative gossip that causes employees to fear for their job security, to question the authenticity of the information they’re provided by management, or to gang up against one another, the source must be silenced.  

How to deal: The management challenge with a pot stirrer is often that the person isn’t acting maliciously; he simply likes to feel central to the conversation. Snuff out the attention the pot stirrer gets by eliminating the need for speculation. Earmark 30 minutes a week that employees can come to you with concerns and questions. Be transparent about changes that are underfoot; address rumors that surface directly. The more open communication you create with the team, the more trust you’ll build. When employees know they can get to the facts, the pot stirrer’s gossip has little appeal.

Tough employee #2

The chicken little

High-performing employees often thrive under stress and challenge. But there’s often that one who reacts as though the sky is falling when put under pressure. An employee’s failure to work under stress not only burdens a manager, but the displays of anxieties could unfairly impact the team’s collective performance and workload.

How to deal: Discuss the concern with your employee as soon as you notice (or hear) he or she is reacting negatively to demands. Ask him or her to share the specific areas of concern; explain that your intent is to help alleviate the stress so the team is set up to succeed. In some cases, the employee may perceive a deadline as not being feasible because of other responsibilities you aren’t aware that he or she manages. Or, you may find that an employee doesn’t have the technical skills needed to perform tasks efficiently. Generally, you can help this kind of employee solve the root causes of their stressful mentality—but you must understand the source of his or her concerns.

Tough employee #3

The naysayer

Most of your team is motivated to rise to any occasion—but there’s that one negative Nellie who is never on board. Unfortunately, just one person’s bad attitude can have a trickle down effect on the performance of an otherwise engaged team.

How to deal: Understand why the employee is negative, and how far-reaching their bad attitude has become. Schedule a private meeting with your negative Ned, explaining that you’ve noticed that he doesn’t seem to be on board with most of what happens at work. Then listen to his reasons why.

Perhaps the employee is having a personal issue, dislikes his or her current role, or has challenges working with co-workers (or you). As you listen, you’ll likely get a sense for who else is impacted by the employee’s negativity, and whether there’s a broader motivational issue with the entire team (that only this employee vocalizes). Ask the employee what you can do as a manager that may help give them an opportunity to start anew. If an employee is truly unhappy with the company, the only solution may be to part ways. But most workplace negativity is fueled by a deeply emotional reason that managers can address.

Invite the employee’s feedback, listen, be empathetic and try to offer support that will help the employee see his or her job through a new lens.