We’re in the middle of a series on “attitude,” particularly as it relates to the folks we manage. One of the toughest assignments we can ever get as a manager is an employee with an “attitude problem.” What a wonderful smorgasbord of things that could mean. From being slow to respond to grumpy behavior, an employee with a bad attitude is no fun at all. In an earlier post, we addressed “the slowpoke” – those employees that seem to completely lack any sense of urgency in how they work. In this post, we are going to tackle “the grump.” Before I dive into describing “the grump,” consider what a reader recently sent to me. I think this captures “the grump” perfectly!

“My people aren’t bad workers or slow. They are excellent at what they do. They just ruin it all with their tone in meetings and responses to e-mails. Because of that, no one wants or likes to work with them.”

They are “grumps.” So what is a “Grump?”

The Grump

We all know them. The grump usually sees everyone around him or her as an irritation and annoyance – and they let you know it. Their mantra: “the world would be much better off if everyone just did their job and didn’t bother me with their problems.” We know we have a “grump” in our midst when we see a co-worker demonstrating any combination of the following:

  • Short biting e-mails – very little “niceties” in any e-mail, ever. All e-mails seem to have an edge
  • Cranky expressions and grunts when they see us (or anyone) coming
  • When asked to do something… anything, they usually respond with extreme irritation and appear as though to take it as a personal affront

What they get from having a “bad attitude”

Ironically, the “grump” actually gets quite a pay-off from his or her bad attitude. Usually they are treated with “kid gloves” by others. No one wants to upset the “grump” for fear of more negativity. And most importantly, his or her manager largely leaves them alone. The negativity and attitude is just too much to take during performance conversations and since they still perform the basic functions of their job, it is tough to know how to talk to the “grump” about attitude without it turning nasty. So, the grump gets left alone by just about everyone… in many cases for years, despite their bad attitude on the job.

What it costs them and YOU

The costs of being a “grump” and having a “grump” on your team are high. For starters, the “grump” isn’t going anywhere. “Grumps” rarely get promoted so if you are grumpy, rule out any plans for career progression. As a manager, that’s one more employee you can’t “do anything with.” Their flexibility and potential are limited unless their attitude changes. As the manager of the “grump,” the costs are even worse. “Grumps” crush morale. They are a major buzz kill to anything related to teamwork, collaboration and camaraderie. No one wants to work with them and that often means more work for everyone else. Inevitably, you run the risk of losing “good attitude” employees because they get demoralized working with the “grump” every day knowing you aren’t going to do anything about it.

How to manage them

Grumps are no fun, but they can be turned from the dark side with some effort. Deep down, grumps want people to like them, but they are wary of trusting others. They are terrified of vulnerability and consequently worship control. As a result, they use their “grumpy” personae to keep others at a distance, maintaining their control over their work and their space. And yet, it is the “grump” that wants more than anything to be appreciated, noticed, seen and thanked for who they are.

So what can you do? Following this 4 step plan:

  1. Be honest with them. Share with them how you experience them. “Stacie, I’ve noticed every time I come over to your desk you seem to scowl. And when I ask for your help, you seem to respond as though I’m irritating you. It’s hard for me to not take that personally. It makes me uncomfortable to talk to you or ask you for anything. It’s like I personally offend you. It feels awful. I wonder if others are experiencing you the same way. ”
  2. Acknowledge that this is not the message they are intending to send. Don’t assume that the “grump” actually wants everyone to not like him or her and that he or she doesn’t like others. We are not nearly that self-aware as human beings. “Stacie, I know this is not how you want to come across. I know that’s not you.”
  3. Share with them what it might be costing him or her. “My fear for you is that you will get a reputation as someone ‘difficult to work with’ and that could be really difficult to overcome. Not to mention, it could make it hard for you to get the opportunities you might want.”
  4. Offer some solutions if they are open. “I’m happy to help if you want to make some adjustments.” Consider some of these as good starters for helping “grumps” overcome grumpiness:
    • Ask others, “how can I help?”
    • Add more sensitivity in your e-mails. Ask someone to proofread it before you send it if you think it might come across as “negative”
    • Be proactive in trying to “serve others” rather than reactive hoping no one asks you for help. Do one thoughtful thing a week for a co-worker.
    • Have lunch with a co-worker once a week.

There you have it. The “grump.” Next up in our series on employees with “bad attitudes:”

“Not in My Job Description”

I really hate it when people give me that line…