Imagine this with us–you work on a church staff where there is little drama. Each team is in their lane, moving the ball down the court when appropriate, and morale is high across the board. Seem too good to be true? 

In the fast pace of church leadership, dealing with difficult staff members can not only put a damper on your overall team morale, but it can feel like a major setback in general to the vision you have as a leader. Maybe you begin to wonder if you made the right hire. Perhaps a more seasoned employee is making you speculate if it’s time for their transition. Whatever the case is, the fact of the matter is we work with people. And people are messy. We need to learn how to effectively manage people in a way that lifts each other up.

We hate to be a bearer of bad news, but listen up. We’re telling you because we care. One way pastors often respond in scenarios of difficult employees is to cast blame or assume a sole fault in the employee. And we would never say this is how we operate…but the lack of self-awareness and the lack of communication proves it time and time again. 

So, if you’re ready to dig into how you can better respond to difficult employees, but also how you can gain better results on your team, this blog is for you. The following steps are crucial in your ability to create a culture where you spend less time dealing with difficult staff members and more time facilitating healthy growth. 

Here’s how you deal with difficult staff members:

Step 1: Clarify

Does the staff member understand specifically where he or she is missing the mark? Have you clarified your specific expectations for a role, team dynamic, or project? You’d be surprised how infrequently direct and clear communication happens in these scenarios. And staff members are left on their own to feel the tension brewing (and likely continue to underperform). Brené Brown words it this way–“Clear is kind. Unclear is unkind.” Be clear about what is expected. And in addition, be clear about the resources your staff member has to reach the expectation. You have a great opportunity to make sure your staff feels clarity and support in their roles.

Step 2: Listen

The easiest thing to do when you hold a crucial conversation is to begin preparing your rebuttal as the other is speaking. Fight the urge to do that. After you’ve clarified where the employee is missing the mark, actively listen to the staff member and use this as a time to better understand where the breakdown in performance is stemming from. It’s easy to tell when someone is actually listening, and it’s easier to feel dismissed by a lack of listening as the conversation continues. This step can make or break a healthy culture, and you as a leader have the opportunity to set the tone in listening.

Step 3: Follow up

After the initial meeting, the employee either improves or continues to miss the mark, right? Regardless of which way the performance is headed, it’s important to follow up with specific feedback. If the staff member is improving, the morale and performance will soar even higher when you follow up with praise and recognition for the improvement. Acknowledge when your team is doing a good job! If you’re recognizing a continuation of underperformance, it’s time to repeat expectations and guide the team member with some SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Actionable, Realistic, Timely). In both cases, feedback should be genuine and specific.

Creating a healthy culture makes all the difference as you stay on course with your ministry and mission. Let’s not avoid the crucial role we as leaders play in maintaining a healthy staff to carry this important work together.