You Got a Problem With Me?

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Digital Library > Human Resources Management > Performance appraisals"You Got a Problem With Me?"

How to handle employee challenges — and retain your dignity.

Rational bosses handle employee challenges by suppressing their defense mechanisms and listening to what the employee is really saying — which could actually be legitimate. Sometimes the ego problem is the employee's; it's just about making noise for the sake of getting noticed.

"One time, an employee questioned my ability to review his work," says Michael Rein, principal in a $2 million commercial architectural and planning firm in Ann Arbor, Mich. "He thought my criticisms were invalid, simply because our professional backgrounds were different. His objections grew more frequent, and it was obvious action was necessary.

A Second Opinion

"I sought my partner's input. We decided on a formal review to discuss the positives and negatives of the employee's performance. At the end of the review, I commented that the employee's recent actions had been unprofessional and unwarranted, especially considering that my comments had only been intended to improve his work, not demean him personally. I also said that if the incidents continued, he'd be dismissed." There were no further confrontations.

So where is the line between a valid challenge and one-upmanship? "When the input is of a nature that calls into question the thought process, a personality trait or personal qualifications, then the employee has crossed the line," believes Rein, who strongly encourages constructive employee feedback.

This Time It's Personal

"After a long run of late-night meetings, I came in later than usual one morning, just so I could have some family time and simply recharge," recalls Rein. "An employee made a comment about it being 'nice to have banker's hours,' clearly loud enough for a group of other employees to hear. At the time, I let it go — but it stayed with me throughout the day."

How would you handle this? You have several options: Scream obscenities at the offending employee, crack a joke about it, ignore it or deal with it privately. Of course, the last choice is best, which is what Rein did.

Taking the Bull by the Horns

"Two days later, I had occasion to arrive late again. The same employee made another sarcastic comment, only louder and more accusatory. I came to a complete stop in the middle of the studio, turned to the employee and said, 'Give me five minutes to put my things in order, then come to my office with your time sheet.' "

The sheepish employee came to his office, and the two compared their working hours of late. The sheets would show that Rein had put in more than twice the hours of the employee.

Rein summed it up for the employee: "I didn't appreciate your public critique of my personal schedule, and in the future any such comments should be made in private." The point was made, and the employee remains today.

Lessons Learned

"I believe I handle employee challenges better than I used to," says Rein. "The mere fact that I've experienced myriad situations over the years enables me to manage workplace problems better.

"I've learned to be more objective and less emotional; when an employee doesn't like an assigned project, I worry about it less on a personal level. Instead, I concentrate more on the issue, the legitimacy of the demand or request, and the ultimate resolution of the problem. The rationale for my decision is always tempered with the understanding that the bottom line of the business cannot be compromised for the individual."

Writer: LeAnn Zotta is a strategic-marketing consultant in Yarmouthport, Mass.

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Human Resources Management

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