Six strategies to manage uncooperative workers

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Rey A. H. Elbo

In The Workplace


Many of our people managers appear not to be convincing when they talk to the workers despite a good number of our proactive two-way communication process. When this happens, we see people being silently uncooperative, but combative against management, outside of the workplace. What’s wrong? Can you help us review our system? — Feeling Disappointed.

A preacher said to a farmer in a rice farm: “Do you belong to any Christian family?” The farmer replied: “No. But they live about one kilometer down the road.” The preacher continued: “No, no! I mean, are you lost?”

“I’ve been living and working in this farm for more than 30 years now. Why ask?”

“I mean, if you’re ready for Judgment Day?”

“When is it?”

“It could be today or tomorrow.”

“Well, let me know for sure when it is. I will tell my wife who likes to socialize with rich people.”

Whether you’re talking to a farmer or a highly educated person, it’s necessary to be convincing every step of the way. You may have all the goodness of a system that allows proactive communication between the workers and their management; still, you need more than just by showing up and having to articulate your piece.

True, you may be convinced about something, but the employees in front of you may have a different viewpoint, because they’re also considering their personal interests and how they could reconcile it with that of management and its corporate goals. That means, your management may not win all the time. And the next best thing that you can do is to be confident that you’re giving your best effort.

Now, here are some ideas that you can use to assess the validity of your communication system:

One, encourage worker participation in all management programs. “All” means those that would adversely affect employees’ interest. Then, create a situation where teamwork becomes necessary. This could delay the process, but it’s better than be bogged down during the implementation stage, when valid opposition and unforeseen events could derail a major, tough decision.

Two, maintain control of the situation by allowing people to ask questions. Encourage fruitful debate up to a certain extent. Just the same, remain calm even under stressful conditions, when the workers see some issues against a certain program. If you do such thing, it demonstrates to employees that they have a management who can be relied upon in critical or emergency cases.

Three, admit management mistakes as soon as they become apparent. Don’t compound the problem by issuing denials and blaming others. Ordinary workers, just like you and me, are intelligent enough to figure out whether blunders are made. Period. When management accepts its mistakes, workers are also more willing to take risks when they know they will not be singled out.

Four, be honest and truthful with everyone. Being forthright on a consistent and never-ending process can give management enough dividends and understanding when it tries to relay unpleasant news to people. It also builds a solid foundation that management can lean on to become an effective leader because management trust begets employee trust.

Five, be enthusiastic about working with people. That way, they would think you really care about having and maintaining a positive work environment. Ask the workers how management can help improve their jobs. Be open and accessible to people. And speak softly enough for everyone to understand your point, in every step of the situation.

Six, reward and recognize people who did a good job. Give credit when and where it is due. And do it as soon as possible. Distinguish team and individual efforts. Celebrate small wins and milestones where it matters. Whatever, the celebration need not be expensive. In fact, a memo-congratulatory note or a marginal note, as long as they’re sincere and specific are the ones that matter.

Corporate management is all about balancing the interest between and among people and their production. You can’t favor one over another. Sometimes, you can handle both to varying degrees by issuing a statement like this: “You can go on vacation as soon as you have completed Project X, without any quality or quantity issue.” Therefore, instead of rejecting an employee request right away, strive to align the two in perfect harmony.