How to Manage an Employee with a Bad Attitude


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Note: This post originally appeared on LinkedIn. 

A Customer Service Tip of the Week subscriber recently emailed to ask for my advice on managing an employee with a bad attitude.

She explained that the customer service team she managed had an employee with a bad attitude who was starting to affect the rest of her team. This is a common challenge for customer service leaders, so I’m sharing some tips here.

But first, a short story…

I don’t have a bad attitude!

Years ago, when I was an inexperienced supervisor, I had an employee who had a bad attitude. I called a meeting with her one day to discuss the problem. “I want to discuss your bad attitude,” I said.

She was a veteran employee who was certainly much wiser than I, so she countered, “I don’t have a bad attitude.”

My plan to quickly tackle the issue was foiled! How could I argue with her without solid evidence?

I sought out the counsel of an experienced leader who explained it was important to separate inferences, such as the employee has a bad attitude, from the observable behaviors that led me to that conclusion.

I gave it some thought and realized one solid fact was that no less than five people from other departments had complained about working with this employee! Not only that, but I had a list of observable behaviors that the five people had told me were the cause of their complaints.

I sat down with her again, but this second meeting was very different.

I opened by explaining that I had received complaints from five people that she had a bad attitude and was difficult to work with. I then explained that I didn’t expect her to agree with her colleagues, but that we had to come up with a plan together to ensure that I didn’t receive any additional complaints.

She wasn’t happy, but she also couldn’t dispute the facts. So we put our heads together and came up with some ideas which she then put into action.

Thirty days later, her colleagues had warmed to her considerably. This person would never be the best employee, but she had talent and made solid contributions.

Lesson learned: focus on observable behaviors

A bad attitude is really an inference or judgement we make based on behaviors.

The way to manage an employee with a bad attitude is to skip the judgement entirely and manage the behaviors themselves.

Start by listing some behaviors that you don’t want to see.

I asked the people who complained about the employee I managed to give me some reasons for their complaints. Here are a few examples they shared:

  • She often skipped daily staff meetings.
  • When she did attend staff meetings, she usually kept silent or made negative comments.
  • She rarely smiled and was usually seen scowling.
  • She didn’t offer to help people from other departments.
  • She frequently got defensive when people asked her about her work.

Once you have your list, meet with your employee to discuss the behaviors and their impact. Make no mention of inferences such as “bad attitude.” Focus on the facts.

During the meeting, ask for your employee’s cooperation in making a change.

There’s a subtle but important way to approach the last part. As much as you can, convince the employee that you’re on their side. I like to borrow something that works well with customers called The Partner Technique.

You don’t want them to feel as though you are an adversarial boss who is simply nit-picking their work. You want the employee to feel that you are there to help them succeed. Be patient as this can take some time. (Nobody likes to hear they’ve being doing a bad job.)

Got a customer service question I can answer? Contact me. I’m here to help!


I heard back from the customer service manager who originally asked me for advice. She tried using the tips outlined in this post and they worked!

A number of people asked, “What about a manager who bullies or has a bad attitude?” That’s a very difficult and very different situation. My recommendation is to check out Catherine Mattice’s excellent book on the subject, Back Off! Your Kick-Ass Guide to Ending Bullying @ Work.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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