6 Tips to Conduct One-on-Ones With Difficult Employees

June 24, 2013 - 5 minute read - Posted by

One-on-ones are opportunities for employees to share their ideas, frustrations, and career advancement to their managers in a private setting. They can also be used to deal with difficult employees. Managers and employees often become reluctant to have one-on-ones when they are centered around giving constructive feedback. Some managers are uncomfortable dealing with employees who are defensive and are not open to feedback. They avoid one-on-ones because they have no certainty as to how the employee will react. Remember that one-on-ones should be employee-driven and your role as a manager is to coach, not micromanage. The goal is to ensure that the employees understand your expectations and to work towards solving the issues.


Here are 6 helpful tips for running one-on-one meetings with difficult employees:

Take immediate action

Set up the one-on-one session as soon as you notice the negative pattern of behaviour. Feedback should be continuous and in real-time for it to be effective. Prevent the behaviour before it turns into a bad habit as bad habits are harder to break.

Prepare an agenda for the one-on-one sessions

Give the employees a heads-up on what the purpose of the session is. The agenda allows the employees to think about the issues beforehand. Encourage them to write down their perspectives on the issues and the factors contributing to them. Accountability starts with setting clear expectations of goals and behaviours. Have a copy of the job description with you to understand what their duties entail. Your knowledge of their position will give you more credibility when you talk about the issues.

Help employees see the existing problem

Some issues are not straightforward and employees may not see how their behaviours are negative. Ask them questions such as “What are the results of this behaviour in your opinion?” or “How is your team impacted by this behaviour?”  Employees can also be in denial that a problem exists as they fear getting reprimanded or getting fired. State it clearly that the purpose of the session is to help them move forward and not to punish them for their mistakes. It is important for the employee to acknowledge that a problem exists so that they can start looking for solutions.

Allow employees to voice their opinions

Not being able to share their side of the story leads to employees becoming defensive and frustrated. One-on-ones should be structured in a way that employees are talking 90% of the time. Encourage them to disclose how they view the issues by listening and not interrupting. Handle the excuses firmly. Employees may blame factors out of their control such as other co-workers’ behaviours. Redirect their focus on what they can do to solve the issue and offer your support to help them.

Encourage employees to come up with alternatives

Empower your employees to create an action plan on how they want to work the issue out by asking them to generate suggestions. Take into consideration that every employee is different when you set your expectations for them. Although the employees are the ones to come up with their action plan, you want to ensure that the standards set are fair. Follow the SMART model – the goals needs to be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Timely. Motivate them by showing that you genuinely believe they can be successful.

Follow-up on the progress

Remember that it is not the quantity of one-on-ones but the quality of them that will lead your employees to be successful. Schedule your follow-up according to the action plan the employees have created. Give them enough time to accomplish some of the tasks before having a follow-up. Recognize the achievements in due time and keep scheduling follow-ups until the action plan is achieved.

Having to give constructive feedback is never pleasant. It requires practice, but also an organization culture that supports the giving and receiving of feedback to every employee. Practice with coworkers and friends on how to conduct one-on-ones with difficult employees. Encourage them to role play different situations so that you become more at ease with a range of emotions as not all employees will react the same way.

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