People Cause More Problems than Anybody

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Author John Towler, Ph.D.
Original Publication Exchange Magazine

How to manage problem employees.

Businesses always encounter problems. People cause most of them. It may be a dishonest employee, an unhappy customer, a disgruntled supplier, or an angry supervisor, but people are at the root of them all. This is because anything that happens to a person affects how they work and interact in the workplace. The woman who is worried about a sick child may be distracted at the office. A man who has had an argument with his teenage son may be short and argumentative with his co-workers. Normally, these difficulties don’t last long and while annoying, they can be ignored. But it is impossible to overlook them when they persist and become a constant pattern of behavior. This can put great pressure on mangers or Human Resource personnel who must keep things running smoothly. Anyone faced with this responsibility should start by diagnosing the reasons behind the disruptive behaviors. Fortunately, there are tools to help you do this.

Let me give you an example. We were called in to help a HR manager who was at the end of his patience with Bill and Linda, two employees who could not and would not get along together. Bill, a large muscular man, was argumentative, intimidating, and terrified his co-worker Linda. She collapsed in tears every time they got into an argument and often called in sick the day following a confrontation. Their supervisor had issued written warnings, sent Bill to anger management course, but nothing seemed to help. These two had to work with each other and separating or replacing them was out of the question.

Using standard personality tests, we found that Bill wasn’t as bad as people thought and that Linda was much stronger than she was given credit for. The assessments showed that both were conscientious, hard workers and that they didn’t like causing problems, but they had no idea why they happened or what to do about it. We helped them understand that Bill was macho, very intense and really didn’t know how to ask for help or seek Linda’s opinions even though he had to rely on her. He simply couldn’t handle Linda’s tears and became tongue tied and frustrated when she became emotional. Linda, on the other hand, couldn’t understand why Bill yelled when he got frustrated and why he simply retreated when she burst into tears. Once they understood how the other person thought and why they acted the way they did, it was easy to help them work out their own solution. They decided to meet each morning to plan their work and discuss potential problems. Bill came up with a way to enable him to leave to cool off when he got frustrated and Linda found a way to offer suggestions so it didn’t seem like she was attacking Bill’s masculinity. The problems lessened, the tears stopped, life became calmer for everyone, and Bill and Linda’s job efficiency rose dramatically.

None of this would have been possible without the right diagnosis of the issues and personalities. This is where the personality tests were invaluable. They can’t and mustn’t be used to screen job applicants, but they are very useful tools to help people understand themselves and others. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator is non-threatening and can tell you a great deal about people. It explains how people think, how they reason, and how they respond to others. You could also use the 16 Personality Factor test or the Edwards Personality Profile Scale. They offer a much more in-depth analysis of people and can help you understand their levels of stress, leadership abilities, need for control and order, how likely they are to assist others, whether they are truly aggressive or not and how open to change they may be. The Myers-Briggs can be used by anyone, but the other two require some testing experience.

People do cause more problems than any other work related issue, and every personal issue has an impact in the workplace. If your job requires you to deal with people, you need to know as much as you can about them; how they think, how they react, how they reason and what drives them. There are dozens of tools to help you do this and they will supply you with insights you would never be able to get in any other way. Why work in the dark when you can understand what is really going on?

Everyone who works with people realizes that the key to success is to understand them. If you don’t know how they are likely to react or behave, you are constantly working in the dark. There are various assessment instruments to help you gain insight into people and innumerable books that explain how people function. Anyone managing people ought to be familiar with all of these aids.

John Towler is a Psychologist and the founder of Creative Organizational Design. Please send comments about this article to jtowler@creativeorgdesign.com. For more information, please contact us.

Re-printable with permission.