Most of the time, managing a team—or even just one person—can be super rewarding. As a manager, you have the opportunity to be a mentor to someone who’s eager to learn, and you’ll probably learn a few things yourself. But, what happens when you’re managing someone who isn’t quite your favorite?
You have a responsibility to mentor and manage every person on your team, whether you like them personally or not. But that doesn’t make the task any easier. I’ve had to manage several employees over the years that I most definitely would be happy to never see again. Here’s how I did it, without shirking my duties as a manager—or driving myself crazy.
Find Out Why
Sometimes, our least favorite employees are in that position at no fault of their own. I figured this out when starting a new job as a manager. I had one employee who was outgoing, ambitious, and hard working—and yet, I couldn’t stand her. For the longest time, I had no idea why.
So, I started making a mental note every time she did something that made me cringe and looked for patterns. It turned out, I found her most annoying every time she asked me a question—specifically one I couldn’t readily answer. I realized that, while her constant questions were definitely not on my favorite to-do list, the real issue wasn’t really with her, it was with me—I didn’t like feeling unprepared and put on the spot.
After that, I made a point to bone up on the issues she typically raised and enlisted her help in figuring out solutions to common snags the entire group faced. Not only did I improve my skills and knowledge as a manager, but I empowered her to take on more responsibility—and kept her busy in the process.
If you’ve got an employee you avoid like the plague, try to figure out what exactly it is about that person that’s driving you batty. The answer might surprise you, and trust me, once you realize what’s irking you, it’ll be much easier to address.
Grab a Pen
I’m a big fan of taking notes, and will rarely go anywhere around the office without my trusty notebook and pen in hand. While it’s obvious why this is beneficial in a meeting, I was surprised to realize my notebook had handy meditative powers, too.
A few years back, I was relatively new as a manager, so I hadn’t come across too many employees I didn’t really like, but one guy was a definite non-favorite. Among many other things, he was a talker. Every time he came by my desk to ask me “a question,” I’d find myself nodding off 20 minutes later, without a clue what he really needed. Not good.
So, I started keeping my notebook handy on my desk. Whenever he came by, I’d politely stop him, grab my pen, and start taking notes of our conversation.
My goal was twofold; first, I wanted to keep myself on track and force myself to pay attention to what he was saying—after all, I was still his manager, and I was there to help him—and secondly, I hoped that my furious note taking would help keep him on track, too. After all, it’s hard to ramble on and on when you know someone’s transcribing your every word.
One of the hardest tasks when dealing with your least favorite employees is making sure you give them the attention they deserve. Keep a pen and notebook handy, and you’ll not only make sure you’re paying attention, but you’ll have a sly diversionary tactic to keep your mind off how annoyed you are at the conversation.
Call For Backup
I know, this probably sounds strange, but if done correctly, it can be an elegant solution to dealing with your least favorite employee.
I stumbled across this tactic after I’d been a manager for a while and was lucky enough to have some great people working with me, including my second in command. She was always eager to learn and jumped at any opportunity to take on additional responsibilities. So, when I was getting frustrated with a particularly irksome employee, she asked if she could take a stab at coaching. The issue we were dealing with at the time was minor and, she suggested, a perfect opportunity for her to try her hand at managing.
This, it turned out, was a great approach. Not only did she get the chance to gradually test the management waters, I was able to observe and guide her throughout the process. And an unexpected benefit? I learned a ton watching her deal with this employee. She approached him in a completely different way, which he responded to quite well. I ended up adopting some of her techniques, and he and I eventually ended up getting along pretty well.
The lesson here is, when all else fails, don’t be afraid to call on someone else to pinch hit. Just remember, this should be used as a learning opportunity for both you and your (temporary) substitute, so don’t fall into the trap of just passing off all your difficult employees to other people.
When you manage, all your employees probably won’t be stars, and some of them will likely drive you crazy from time to time. Keep these tips in mind when you’re getting frustrated with one (or, um, all) of your employees, and they’ll never have a clue they aren’t your favorite.