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MANAGING STAFF

Three kinds of irritating staffers and how to deal with them amicably

The worst part of any manager’s job is dealing with problem behavior.

And that’s the very part of the job that can never be ignored, says Cathleen C. Snyder, SPHR, senior human resources consultant with Strategic HR Inc., a Cincinnati human resources consulting and outsourcing firm.

Allow the behavior to continue, and besides the fact that it’s a pain to live with, the other staff lose respect for the manager for letting somebody get away with what’s obviously unacceptable.

Here’s how to manage three common problem people. One is the procrastinator. One is the staffer who interrupts everybody, including the manager, during conversations as well as in meetings. And one is the staffer who puts the blame on everybody else.

First, the procrastinator

Procrastination isn’t a crime. But it eats away at the office’s efficiency and productivity – and at everybody’s patience.

The solution is time consuming but necessary: stay on top of that staffer.

Give each assignment firm, hard deadlines that have to be met.

Then set out a follow-up requirement, perhaps, “I want you to send me a daily e-mail update on what you are doing with this project.”

It’s also helpful to have the staffer draw up a plan outlining how to proceed with the work. In the beginning, the manager may have to set the plan up, but for assignments after that, the staffer should do it alone.

Also, Snyder says, for safety, set early deadlines. If the real deadline is Friday, tell the staffer the work is due Wednesday. “Padding a deadline gives a little breathing room,” Snyder explains.

What if the work falls behind schedule?

Ask why: “This project is due Tuesday. I see that you haven’t gone very far with it. Why is that?”

If there’s a legitimate reason, address it. Maybe one of the doctors made a last-minute assignment with directions to get it done before anything else.

Listen to what the staffer says, and if something can be done about it, do it.

But be careful. “Don’t get dragged into a prolonged discussion about the excuses,” Snyder says.

Stay with the facts, and force the staffer to take ownership of the work.

If the response is “I don’t know how to do this,” don’t accept it. Say, “That’s something you should have told me about, because you are responsible for getting this project done. You need to let me know when you are assigned work that you don’t know how to do.”

That same theory holds true for any excuse, even a legitimate one. The staffer should tell the manager about it at the onset so the situation can be remedied before it becomes a crisis.

Second, the interrupter

Handling an interrupter depends on how the interrupter does the interrupting, Snyder says. She gives three types common to all offices.

First is the staffer who has the moxie to interrupt the manager in a one-on-one conversation and charge in with a say-so.

The manager has two options.

One is to let the staffer have the say, and listen to it all. But don’t discuss what’s said. Come back immediately with “Okay, I’ve listened to you. Now you need to listen to what I have to say without interrupting me.”

The other option is to stop the person at the outset with “I would appreciate it if you would let me finish my thought.”

Either way, cut the interruption short. Do otherwise and the interrupter will take over the conversation.

The second type of interrupter is the staffer who interjects comments during meetings when other people are talking.

Most of the time, interruptions can be avoided entirely by taking control of the meeting at the start with “I’m going to listen to the updates from each of you, and then I will give my updates. Then I’ll take questions at the end.”

However, if that doesn’t work and the staffer continues to interrupt, cut it short with “Hold just a second and let me finish my thoughts.”

What about the staffer who continuously makes comments or throws in opinions about what everybody else is saying?

Snyder’s advice is to take that person aside afterwards and say, “I noticed that you interrupted the other speakers several times. That’s distracting to the speaker and to everybody else. People will pay a lot more attention to what you say if you don’t interrupt them.”

The third type of interrupter is the staffer who just walks into the manager’s office and interrupts whatever is going on to tell something that doesn’t have to be told right then.

The solution is to stop the talking before it begins. Do that with “I appreciate your input. I don’t have time to talk right now. I have a long list of things to do today. Let’s set a time to talk about this further.”

Then schedule 15 minutes for a day or two later.

And then, to get the staffer to think through the importance of it all, say, “It would be helpful to me if you would write out three or four bullet points on this and bring them to our meeting.”

But with all three types of interrupting staff, there’s a caution, Snyder says.

“Don’t slam the door too hard,” she says. Do that and the communication will stop altogether. A manager’s job is not to squelch staff but to give them guidance on how to communicate effectively.

And third, the blamer

A blamer isn’t far removed from a procrastinator. Mostly, it’s just that the excuses are different.

Thus, the approach is similar.

When there’s a problem, ask the why of it: “Tell me what’s keeping you from getting this done” or “what’s causing this?”

The blamer will live up to the name and put the fault on another staffer or on a supervisor. Or the blame may go on the office for not having the right software or resources.

Once again, if there’s a legitimate reason for the holdup, address it. But don’t get into a long discussion about it. The work always has been and remains the staffer’s responsibility.

“The bottom line is that the staffer is accountable for getting the work done,” Snyder says. If something is holding it up, it’s the staffer’s responsibility to try to solve the problem – to talk with the other person who is stymieing the work or to ask the manager for the necessary resources. “People have to take care of their own excuses,” she says.

No matter where the staffer puts the blame, and no matter how logical that blame may be, come back with “We all run into obstacles, but part of your job is to find your way around those obstacles so you can meet your goals.”

And end the conversation with “You are accountable for this.”

Any manager has to stay results-focused, Snyder says. Every project has to be done, and excuses can’t be accepted.

When somebody throws out an excuse for not working, the response has to be “What’s your plan for dealing with it?”

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