This is part two of a three-part series on setting the tone in your work culture.

“It’s so hard to stay in control when an employee is condescending and rude!”

“I know I’m supposed to be impartial to all of my employees, but some are easier to like than others.”

“Sometimes, when an employee speaks to me with such disregard and disrespect, it is hard to NOT react. I know I’d be the one in trouble if I did, but it is very tempting.”

These are some of the comments I hear from leaders when I speak about conflict and work culture. In my previous blog, Setting the Tone in your Work Culture, I addressed a leader’s self-control when dealing with conflict. Today, I address how to create a connection with employees who are difficult to like.

The recipe for antagonism: opinionated, sarcastic, and derogatory

The joke around the office is “don’t mess with David.” He’s opinionated and thinks his way is the only way. While challenging how things are done can bring innovation and improve results, David’s approach does the opposite. Instead of inviting others’ ideas, he uses sarcasm and derogatory comments that shut people down and alienate him from co-workers. He doesn’t apologize when he is proven wrong and gossips about people who don’t agree with him.

Choose to be a leader who connects with your employees

Employees like David are difficult to like. They can push your buttons and bring out a negative reaction that fuels the behavior you wish would stop. Believe it or not, you don’t have to like your employees. However, as a leader, it is your professional responsibility to model how to treat people like David. To start, look past his behavior and focus on his pain.

Choose to see past poor behavior and focus on the employee’s pain

Despite appearing confident, people who behave poorly deep down feel insecure and inadequate. Most often, they have experienced some type of loss or deep hurt that has not been resolved. While it is not your job to help them navigate their emotional pain, when you see past behavior and handle yourself with calm composure, you convey a person’s value…one human being to another. When you interact in this way, you build trust. The employee is more likely to feel a sense of belonging to the team, an emotional commitment to goals, and behave in an appropriate manner. While you still need to address unacceptable employee performance or conduct, the way you address it is with dignity and humanity.

I understand connecting with employees who are difficult to like is easier said than done. Perhaps your patience is dwindling and it affects your behavior around this employee. If you’d like to talk more about how to shift your mindset in order to engage with a difficult to like employee, let’s talk. 

In Part 3 of Setting the Tone in your Work Culture Series, I will explain how to see the humanity in difficult employees.

Bonnie Artman Fox is a Work Culture Speaker and Coach. She works with senior leaders to strengthen organizational health through work cultures that optimize performance, productivity, and results. She brings over 25 years of expertise as a psychiatric nurse and marriage & family therapist to help organizations build work cultures where people function at their best. To learn more or bring Bonnie to your company, visit www.bonnieartmanfox.com.