How to Manage a Bad Attitude

Jul 25, 2017, Written by Sue Miley



Have you ever left a meeting with an employee and felt like the life had literally been sucked right out of you?  Actually, before you left the meeting you could feel your energy draining and your patience lacking.

In the beginning you questioned your own leadership.  Am I doing something wrong?  Am I too direct, too big picture, too detailed?  Over time you begin to notice that it is that erratic.  If you are too nice, they are skeptical and grumpy.  If you are harsh, they are surprised and accusatory.

You decide there is only one thing left to try…moderation.  Let me think really hard about how I can say this without being too harsh and directive, or too catering and lenient.  Forget being exhausted after the meetings or interactions.  Admit it.  You are already zapped of energy before you meet with them.

At some point or another, if you own your own business, you will encounter an employee with a bad attitude.  Maybe they have reasons for their disposition.  You all aren’t that organized and they are just pointing it out.  They could have had a really bad experience at their last job.  Regardless of the reason, you are not sure how to handle things and you are not sure how much longer you can take it.  Am I right?

I am sure you have read all of the articles about how one bad apple can spoil the barrel and how a problem employee can ruin the team.  But, in some cases, like the one you are in now, if I suggest you get rid of the person you are going to start defending them.

  • But they really know their job and can do it well.
  • We have had too much turnover, I need to make this work.
  • What if it is me and they are right about everything?

In the long run, none of that matters.  In the long run you probably need to toss the apple.  However, it is your business and you control the timing.  You don’t have to put yourself in a worse position.

While it isn’t necessarily a long-term solution, here are some suggestions for managing a bad attitude:

  1. Develop your back-up plan or replacement plan.  Don’t wait until they leave because they are making everyone including themselves miserable.  Don’t wait until you can’t take it anymore and you let them go and have no replacement plan.  If it means finding a backup in your organization or to begin recruiting for a replacement, beginning the process will make you feel less leveraged.
  2. Be consistent.  Don’t switch your style, decision-making, etc. to try to match them.  (Yes, I am a huge believer in situational leadership normally!)  In this case, they are resisting any style.  You are subconsciously letting them manipulate you.  Pick a consistent leadership style that you feel this position requires and stick with it.  Make decisions in a consistent way.  Don’t let them skip the process one day and then hold their feet to the policy fire the next.  You stay steady and stable.
  3. Set boundaries.  I know that sounds counselor-y, but you need to explain to these employees that it is not okay for them to criticize co-workers, to talk negatively and professionally about the company, or to try to change your mind on everything.
  4. Hold them accountable.  Even though it taxes you to have to talk to them, usually people that have bad attitudes deflect everything away from themselves.  It is everyone and everything else.  Everyone else is incompetent.  This process is an issue.  We don’t have enough resources to do this effectively.  It is always something or someone else.  The key is to hold them accountable to their responsibilities….consistently.  Hold them accountable to the boundaries you set with them…..consistently.  Don’t allow them to worry about anyone else but themselves.
  5. Pray.  Pray for them and their spirit of negativity.  Pray for the words to say that will reach them.  Pray for patience.  Pray for a great replacement quickly.  Pray for God’s will.

Basically, you can’t manage bad attitudes long-term.  Your consistency and leadership will either turn them, or you need to replace them for their good and your team’s health.

Just remember that you can position yourself for an easier transition if you are consistent, prepared, and definitive.   Ultimately, if they have a bad attitude for a reason, they may leave before you are ready.  But, the sooner you get started the less painful it will be.

If they are the type that just chronically complains, they may never leave on their own.  They need to be held accountable to change their attitude for everyone’s sake, or move on.

Once you have set your plan in action, then you need to figure out how to make sure that your interview process catches any attitude issues!


Reader Interactions


  1. Summer Dann says

    I would add: The leader needs to reflect on the situation without a whole lot of emotions. Talk to the other employees, not just their favorites or people that will be “yes” men and women.. I’ve seen leaders who are inexperienced, insecure or just plain arrogant come in and a great employee prior to the new a new manager is now a “bad apple,” “causing problems,” or my personal favorite “is insubordinate.” That bad apple may be the only one willing to say that a process, procedure won’t work with clients or stakeholders. Usually employees aren’t “bad apples” right away. I’ve watched some really great employees leave and take historical knowledge, company relationships and in a couple of cases, other good employees. All leaders need to reflect on their own leadership style, communication style and their reactions to employees.

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Sue Miley

Sue Miley MBA, MA, LPC helps small business owners build successful businesses on a foundation of Christian values. After 20 years in business, and 10 years as a Christian counselor, Sue uses a combination of faith, business and psychology to help clients in business and in life.

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