Dealing with Difficult and/or Resistant Staff

Every faculty has difficult and/or resistant people. I think most supervisors would agree that dealing with them is one of the most challenging aspects of their job. Being a difficult person is usually a personality trait. Difficult people come in several varieties. They are often whiners, judgmental, opinionated, and negative. Resistant people do not like change. Resistance can range from being fairly subtle, such as avoidance or passive aggressive behavior, all the way to outright defiance, hostility, and acts of sabotage.

To better understand and then deal with difficult and resistant staff, let’s establish some guiding principles:

(1) Being difficult and being resistant are not the same; however, one can be both difficult and resistant.

(2) Almost everyone comes to work each day with the belief that they do a good job and try their best. Now, that’s what they believe. Being difficult and/or resistant doesn’t necessarily mean that they are bad teachers.

(3) What is most relevant is that the supervisor’s most important job is to assure that every member of the staff measures up to the highest professional standards.

(4) As a supervisor, you have a responsibility to treat all staff members with respect. Supervisors should never get sucked into looking and acting like bullies by using your position to be punitive or by threatening others.

(5) The faculty is made up of intelligent people who see naysayers for what they are, and most don’t want to get involved with petty school politics.

(6) If you give naysayers more energy than they deserve, it is like fertilizing weeds, the weeds will likely grow, and you don’t want to squander your energies in unproductive ways.

(7) Deal with conflicts privately. Do not avoid confronting negative behavior because it is uncomfortable. If unaddressed it will grow and even spread.

(8) Supervise to the evidence, meaning gather data and artifacts particularly as they relate to teaching and learning, and hold staff accountable to procedures and policies. Do your due diligence. Never violate a contract or abridge the right to due process.

(9) If there is evidence that someone is under-performing, then deal with the under-performance as an opportunity for staff development.

(10) We all learn best and change our behaviors by reflecting on our own practices and deciding that we need to make corrective actions. As a supervisor, your job is to hold up valid evidence and data to your staff member like a mirror and help them to reflect upon their own actions and the results of those actions.

In short, the supervisor is the professional, is a role model and never acts like a bully.

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