Handling a very talented but argumentative employee

We’re sure you’ve seen this person at least once. Hopefully, you have a couple of them working for you. You’re lucky if you have found one of those very talented, smart, productive people. He may come with some issues:  he’s always right – at least in his own mind.

Sometimes, they cause big problems: it would be okay if this person thought you were wrong and still cooperated, but you’re either reminded often about how wrong your decision was, or you hear about how wrong this person is reporting you were from a number of other people. This can become a significant problem, especially if it starts to undermine your position with other employees.

This kind of person is often one you want to have around, if perhaps a little quieter at times. Good at solving problems – and cares about the job. Although when you make get the feeling this person is a saboteur, things need to change.

Of course each situation is different, and you need to roll with it, but here are a few of the many suggestions we might make while reviewing your situation.

Appreciate these people! The source of some of the argumentative nature is that they passionately want the best decision to be made. They really care about doing their job and your company, or they wouldn’t argue. People who passionately advocate for something they think is better for you are on your side.

Make it a habit to listen. Seek their input often. You may find some keen insights here. You may learn things you didn’t know, or gain other useful insight into the problems you face. Those are positive outcomes.

Make it clear that the decisions you make aren’t necessarily going to be ultimately the best ones, but they are what you, as the manager in charge of the implementation can work with at the time. A decision isn’t a conclusion – it’s not the end of thinking, it’s what you’re going to do right now.

Develop a record of admitting when you are wrong. It’s difficult sometime, but if you can look at your employees when they give you good suggestions and say: “Let’s do that, that’s better than the idea I had.” Your employees will recognize that if they had convinced you that their idea was better you would have agreed. They know that you can’t always explain everything.

If you’re up against a deadline, or feel other time pressure you need people to act on your decision. If the argument is still happening, get this employee to write his argument down.  Suggest that when things slow down a bit, that they can write their recommendation down clearly and concisely. Very often, the act of writing itself creates more clarity. Details that were not apparent before become clear. If you ask for this, you must take the time to read it. Not doing so would cause some hard feelings, and you may learn something from it.

 

You, the manager, should work with the best solution you have at hand – and part of that solution’s quality of being “best” is how well you understand it.  Make this fact clear to all of your employees.

People want to be heard and appreciated for their contributions. If it’s perceived that you reject suggestions out of hand, you will attract employees who are drones, and who want to do only what they’re told to. As much trouble as the argumentative and brilliant employee can be, they’re the ones that will help you improve and grow your business the most.

Learn some specific argumentative techniques. There are methods that can be used to maximize the positive output of arguments while reducing the blood pressure increase.

If the situation is complex, or the problem is large and the employee very valuable, you may wish to hire a mediator, what you spend on this service you will get back in peace of mind, peace, and hopefully you will learn to harness this talent and make it work better for you.

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