How to Effectively Manage Difficult Employees: The Rude-nik

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How to Effectively Manage Difficult Employees: The Rude-nik

A few months ago, I introduced you to an employee you may have encountered in your lifetime, called The AWOL. You know, the one that just never seems to be around when a project is due? Then, I talked about The Egomaniac. Remember, the one who takes “not a team player” to a whole new level? The Egomaniac and The AWOL are just two of many personality types that Jezra Kaye and I help managers address with our book, Managing the Unmanageable: How to Motivate Even the Most Unruly Employee.

Today, I’m bringing another unmanageable employee (UE) to the table. This one is called “The Rude-nik.” Perhaps you’ve met?

While The Rude-nik thinks he’s just being assertive, you couldn’t prove it from the people he works with.  Name calling, hissy fits, raised voices, and sudden mood swings are just some of the gifts he shares with others in the workplace — all in the name of “doing his job.”

Photo by Bob Smith of Examiner

How are you supposed to deal with this person? Jezra and I came up with a tool kit of sorts, which we call the “5C’s.” Take a look:

  1. Before you do anything, you must Commit or Quit. Are you going to keep The Rude-nik or go through the process of hiring someone else? Make that decision. If you’re keeping The Rude-nik, commit to their future, whether or not they make you want to rip your hair out.
  2. So you’ve committed. Now, it’s time to  Communicate. Completely honest conversations can be awkward for everyone but they have to be done. Have a real conversation with your UE. It’s common to graze over difficult topics when meeting with employees, especially if they love raising their voices like Rude-niks do. Don’t worry, keep reading and we’ll help you know what to talk about.
  3. Now you are committed to keeping The Rude-nik and are preparing for an honest conversation. What do you even talk about? As a manager, you need to clarify goals and roles. Maybe The Rude-nik thinks he knows exactly what is expected of him but he is way off base. Lay out clearly what The Rude-nik’s role is and create goals to work toward.
  4. You’ve committed to salvage your UE and have clearly and honestly communicated their goals and roles. It’s time to Coach. Coaching is a great management tool. You can use coaching to help shift negative attitudes and build a better relationship with your UE. Yes, even with The Rude-nik.
  5. If you follow steps one through four, you’re on the right track! The bad news is, behaviors, like habits, are difficult to break. There’s a solution to that too– create accountability. Create a system to keep The Rude-nik on track with the changes and commitments you’ve discussed. Creating accountability has an added benefit– it will also help you with your management goals.

Managers, I want to hear from you! Tell me your best rude-nik stories. What has worked and not worked for you in managing them? Leave a comment below, send me an email, or tweet me.

There are many more difficult employee types that seem unmanageable. I love to speak about managing those unmanageables too! Stay tuned.

Photo by Bob Smith featured on The Examiner.
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  1. Sav
    July 2, 2014


    What do you do with that one team member who is directly rude, but you do not have the option to get rid of that person as its at the end of a project and firing and hiring would not be a wise decision to make at this point. And that person seems to know this too.

    I have worked in management for years and never encountered this dilemma, as its first time for me working on a project.

    Thanks for your advice


    • Jezra Kaye
      July 2, 2014

      Sav, first, I’m sorry that you find yourself in this position. A rude team member — and especially one who knows he can’t be fired — can sap everyone’s energy, and diminish the sense of satisfaction you have every right to feel at the end of a project.

      A few questions, then a suggestion:
      * Is this person rude to everyone, or only to one other person?
      * Does he seem to CHOOSE rudeness as a strategy; or is he out of control, emotionally?
      * Is he getting any benefits from his rudeness? Do people, for example, always do things his way because it’s easier than confronting/ interacting with him? And finally,
      * Is this a person who brings other benefits to your team?

      With the answers to those questions in mind, think about a poorly behaved two-year-old or teenager (whichever you’re more familiar with), and note how similar they are to your rude team member (RTM). Like your RTM, two-year-olds (and sometimes teenagers) think the world revolves around them, have no idea how to manage their own emotions, and strike out at other people whenever they’re uncomfortable, or just want to.

      If this strikes a chord for you, my suggestion is that you treat your RTM like a surly teenager or a tantrum-prone toddler: Draw a boundary, express what you require in the most neutral way possible, and then stick to your guns. Here are some samples of the kind of statement you’re looking for:
      — “Do not speak to Jane in that tone of voice.”
      — “On this team, we don’t yell at each other.”
      — “What you said was inappropriate. Please apologize.”

      Now here’s the tricky part: NO MATTER WHAT YOUR RTM REPLIES, keep repeating your message in the exact same words. NO MATTER WHAT, don’t get pulled into a debate or a discussion, or answering a challenge, or anything. In two words (the most useful two words of parenting advice I’ve ever received), DON’T ENGAGE — just repeat your message over and over and over and over and…

      Remember: Rude people are trying to establish dominance by throwing you off balance, so while you can’t fire your RTM, you may get him to give up his game by demonstrating that you can’t be thrown.

  2. ban
    March 19, 2015

    Okay so the thing is we are a startup and re four people working. Me and my partner and two employees. The problem is one of them is really not polite or even courteous. I literally feel that I am your boss and you need me not the other way round. She does her work averagely well but at this point we cannot fire her and I do not know how to deal with her and with just me and her being in the office space for the next 20 days as the others are on some other work. The ridiculous part is that she has no sense of courtesy and it irks me. I think it began when my partner and I thought we should be those good bosses who are friendly and all, that really backfired and ts been a few weeks since we changed our strategy as to deal with them. But this is really creating a negative energy in our workspace. Please help me to deal with this situation as I want to handle it professionally and also be the authority figure.

    • Anne Loehr
      March 20, 2015

      Hi Ban,

      I’m sorry you are having such a difficult experience with an employee and that it’s turning your workplace into a negative place. That can’t be good for getting work done, or for feeling inspired! A negative environment can squash innovation too. Management is a huge and continuous learning process and it seems like in your case it is trial by fire. You didn’t mention if you’ve given the 5C’s strategy (as explained in this post) a try. If not this time, definitely keep them in mind as your startup grows and you hire more employees. It’s not a bad thing to be a friendly boss, you just have to make sure both you and your employee have a clear understanding of their roles and goals from the start. Sometimes you’d be surprised to learn that they have an entirely different perspective on what’s going on. It sounds like you need to have a frank conversation with her. These conversations can be difficult but part of being a manager is being able to have those difficult conversations in a constructive way. I’d love to know more about the situation such as what specifically this employee is doing and why you are unable to let her go. Please feel free to email me directly at and let me know that information, and hopefully I can give you some more specific advice on your situation. Thank you for asking!

  3. Jez
    August 27, 2015

    Hey, enjoyed reading your post about the 5C’s strategy. Here is the background to my situation, my husband and I manage my family’s small business where part of the employees are his family. That’s right, lots of FAMILY! Our situation is that our business has grown by four times in the last six-seven years. In that time I have went from one office person (myself) to needing two people in the office one an office assistant and essentially the other to replace me as office manager so I can be the office manager/HR/financial person. The current office manager is the person whom we are having the issues with. She and the assistant are who everyone, who enters our office/business sees, and she has been rude to employees along with people who come into our business. I have talked to her at her prior review, asking her if she was overwhelmed with everything and how I could help. She stated no and after referring to a specific incident that involved myself she apologized and stated she didn’t know why she reacted the way she had.
    My main concern is that it is causing other employees to become frustrated and responded back in a non professional way also. After speaking to one of them they apologized up and down for responding back but stated that her behavior has been really hard to deal with. It makes them not want to come into the office where they need to get information for what their job involves in the warehouse.
    My husband (Plant manager) and myself are at a loss of how to handle her, she is really great with all the other aspects of the job. She has an assistant that who she won’t give anymore to lessen her load so we are at a loss of what to do! Help! Thanks!

  4. Yodel789
    October 21, 2015

    So I’m a new manager, brought in from the outside. I’ve dealt with some passive aggressive comments, and the occasional off putting tone.

    For example, I got the following email: “did you forget I’m supposed to get x amount of hours? Please make a note of it. Ask your boss, she’ll ll tell you.”

    The consistent use of a dismissive/disrespectful tone is beginning to wear thin.

    A frank conversation is needed I believe, but I feel that this person will just deny the behavior, and then attempt to poison the team.

    This person is not someone I can term.

    • Anne Loehr
      October 22, 2015

      Thank you for your comment and congrats on being a new manager! That sounds like a really tough (and frustrating) situation. When you do have a conversation, which I agree needs to happen, my tip is to use specific behavior language, instead of belief language. So instead of saying “you’re being passive aggressive,” point out the specific behavior that needs to change without an overall judgment about it. A specific behavior might be something like “When you spoke to Maria in the meeting, you rolled your eyes. That’s not appropriate behavior for this workplace. Please stop doing that.”

      I hope that helps and I also hope things get better! Transitions can bring out bad behavior in people.

  5. Es
    January 4, 2018

    Hi, I am a director and have faced problem with one of my managers who i promoted 6 months ago to handle my ex position. the problem is that although i tired to do my best to handover and train the job, i faced with below issues:
    1. she react that i am not giving her enough chance to decide and act. then i decided to leave her on the job and then she blamed that i am not helping enough!!
    2. the job process and results was not going very well and as it was close to end of the year i decided to help her more and also be a little involve with the team to complete the tasks in order to protect her. after the year was finished and we got acceptable results then she reacted not polity in a private meeting with mentioning everything was fine and she did all these things herself and she is the best which made me really disappointed.

    this issue has really made me upset and do not know what would be best reaction as this person had been working with me for past 5 years and had never seen such reaction before!

    please advice.

    • Anne Loehr
      January 15, 2018


      Thank you so much for reaching out. This sounds like an incredibly frustrating situation. In this scenario, you will need to rely heavily on feedback. Seeing your comment reminded me about the eight-step feedback formula, which is extremely useful for managers and leaders. So I wrote a piece about it last week, which I think will help you. You can read it here: Give those eight steps a try. I wish you the best of luck!



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