Take the “Difficult” Quiz

Does your employer think of you as “difficult” … and before you answer that, let me add that difficult employees aren’t necessarily bad employees.

Some employees are viewed as “difficult” because they’re effective catalysts for organizational change. They’re engaged in their work and confident in their contributions to the workplace. They clearly communicate their desire to improve their workplaces by addressing stumbling blocks with their employers that inhibit the operational effectiveness of the business.

The other class of “difficult” employees includes people who conjure up that negative connotation; they’re people who appear to enjoy disrupting the workplace just for the sake of disruption; they don’t bring remedies to the table when they lodge complaints so their employers view them as “chronic complainers” or worse yet, as “troublemakers” in the workplace”.

Most of us would like to believe we’re doing what’s best for our employers and colleagues by raising issues of concern with our managers even though our efforts may cause us to be viewed as “difficult”. Managers who don’t recognize those good intentions often call in their HR professionals to help them. That doesn’t have to be a bad thing!

To be sure, if you consider yourself a “catalyst” for organizational change, you also believe you fall on the positive side of “difficult”. But which type of employee do you portray to your managers? To get an idea of how you’re viewed by your employer, answer the following questions:

1. What is your track record with your employer?

a. Do you raise isolated issues of concern
b. Do you exercise a regular pattern of challenges?
c. Do you live with what happens at work, even if it troubles you?

2. Before you address an issue with your employer, how do you gather your information about a problem?

a. From other employees?
b. From research and tangible evidence?

3. Do you pose justifiable concerns to your employer along with reasonable suggestions for resolution?

a. Yes
b. No

4. Before you raise your complaint or challenge, what do you do to prepare yourself for that discussion? (select three choices)

a. Raise your concern(s) casually, in conversation.
b. Decide when/where you want to talk to your employer.
c. Plan what you will say before you open your discussion.
d. Listen to your employer’s comments and shape your questions from what you’ve heard.
e. Prepare key questions to ask your employer.
f. Pose open-ended questions with your employer.
g. Pose close-ended questions with your employer.

5. When you present your concerns, do you:

a. Focus on the problem?
b. Focus on how the problem affects you or another person?

6. When you are talking to your manager or supervisor, do you (select two choices):

a. Acknowledge your employer’s point-of-view?
b. Urge your employer to understand your point-of-view?
c. Seek remedies that address your employer’s concerns?
d. Seek remedies that address your concerns?
e. Step back from your position and recognize what you’re being told by your employer?
f. Play the role of a mediator and try to find a common ground?
g. Figure out where and how you can bring clarity to the situation?

7. Do you restate/reflect your understanding of your employer’s concerns?

a. Yes.
b. No.

8. In general, how do your concerns come to fruition?

a. You and your employer come to mutually acceptable agreements that resolve issues.
b. Your employer lets you know how your issues have been/will be handled.
c. Issues typically remain unresolved to your satisfaction.

9. Do you establish and commit to a plan of action with your employer?

a. Yes.

b. No.

10. Do you come to an agreement with your employer about how resolutions will be implemented and monitored?

a. Yes.
b. No.

Employees and employers have one obvious interest of mutual concern – both want their organizations to succeed. Learning and employing mediation skills is an excellent way to influence people and resolve interpersonal conflict at the same time. Don’t be shy about expressing your concerns with your employer but don’t bully your employer either. Learning to be a great employee means learning how to share mutual concern for your organization and to communicate to your employer that you also want what’s best for the organization.

1. a-10pts; b-5pts; c-0pts
2. a-0pts; b-5pts
3. a-5pts; b-0pts
4. a-1pt; b-1pt; c-1pt; d-2pts; e-2pts; f-2pts; g-0pts
5. a-10pts; b-0pts;
6. a-2pts; b-1pt; c-2pts; d-1pt; e-3pts; f-4pts; g-4pts
7. a-10pts; b-0pts
8. a-10pts; b-5pts; c-0pts
9. a-10pts; b-0pts
10. a-10pts; b-0pts

74 points or more: You seem to have a healthy relationship with your employer and you’re probably viewed as one of those “difficult” employees who is good for the organization. You’ve learned how to be honest and how to show sincere appreciation for your manager’s point-of-view; you respect each other and share a similar desire to improve your organization; you choose to work together to resolve problems.

50-73 points: Perhaps it would be helpful to take another look at your approach. You may have good intentions when you raise issues of concern but your manager probably isn’t getting the message you want to send. Clarify your understanding of your manager’s viewpoint; Be open to (or suggest) collaborating with your manager to develop/implement an action that will address your concerns.

Less than 50 points: Your employer views you as either “difficult” or s/he just doesn’t want to work collaboratively with you. This is a conundrum and your relationship with your employer is in critical shape. Try opening up to your manager; be willing to accept your role in perpetuating problems/issues of concern. Share your understanding & appreciation for your employer’s point of view and ask your manager if you can work together to find mutually agreeable solutions. Come up with suggestions that will work for both of you. The goal is to correct your employer’s opinion of you by developing a cooperative partnership.

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R. Anne Hull

I like the distinction you make between positive and annoying difficult employees. You make some excellent specific points for being an effective complainer. Its often hard to keep negative emotions in check and be seen as a whiner. But the wisdom of “think before you speak” has saved many reputations. Being known as someone who takes the initiative and actively seeks to understand the other point of view results in better solutions…for all.

Doris Tirone

Thanks for your comments Anne. You’re so right! Good employees are often verbal about problems at the workplace but understand their employers’ “big picture” well enough to work in partnership with their managers to create & implement solutions. That type of employee is great at keeping their managers on their toes and in line with what’s good for the mission of the organization.

Heather J. Innes

Great post. Could be used as a checklist by those who suspect they are unintentionally falling on the wrong side of difficult too often! Thank you.