As a small business owner, you will have problematic employees from time to time. Do you have the skills to steer a contentious situation to a productive conclusion? Steve Strauss shares his three-step approach to dealing with difficult employees on this episode of “The Heartbeat of Main Street.”




“The Heartbeat of Main Street” delivers timely insights tailored to the needs of small business owners and entrepreneurs. Featuring a rotating line-up of small business experts and industry leaders – and covering a range of topics – each episode explores the trends that have an impact on revenue creation for small business owners.


The series is hosted by ForbesBooks, and more information can be accessed through a dedicated home page. New episodes will appear regularly on the Small Business Community podcast page. Be sure to check back often – so you don’t miss a beat.



Narrator:                    Welcome to “The Heartbeat of Main Street with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at Here's your host, Gregg Stebben.


Gregg Stebben:         Welcome to ”The Heartbeat of Main Street” brought to you by ForbesBooks and Bank of America. Steve Strauss joins us to talk about how to deal with a difficult employee. Steve is USA Today's Small Business Columnist and the author of 17 books including the best-selling, Small Business Bible. Steve thank you for joining us.


Steve Strauss:           Great to be here, Gregg, and thanks for having me.


Gregg Stebben:         Steve you own a small business, and in your capacity as USA Today's Small Business Columnist and also as a Small Business Community influencer for Bank of America, you also talk with a lot of small business owners, and today you are going to give us a three-step approach to dealing with a difficult employee. What's step number one?


Steve Strauss:           Well the first thing I think you need to do is listen. What you don't want to do is tune the bad employee out, which is I think what a lot of us might want to do, or maybe prefer to do. But what I know is that the best managers try and understand the disgruntled employee, get their point of view and try and see what can be changed. Then what you have to do is give some clear feedback and direction and expectations, and if I could put my lawyer hat on, you also need to document. So, listen, give correction, but then document. All three of those things are critical for sure.


Gregg Stebben:         Okay. So that's step number one. Step number two is…?


Steve Strauss:           Well you don't want to become part of the problem. You don't want to poison the well.  What that means specifically in this context is: don't gossip. As the manager, as the owner, as the boss you have to set an example, and you do the opposite of that by talking about the person, talking about the problem to other employees. My dad used to say, I'm your father not your friend, when I would get really sassy. And you know my dad was a great guy, but he was setting a clear demarcation point, right. There has to be some respect, and so I think that's true in the office as well. You need your employees to know that you are the boss not just another co-worker, and you do that by not gossiping about the problem employee.


Gregg Stebben:         In our conversation about how to deal with a difficult employee what's step number three?


Steve Strauss:           Well finally you want to make sure that you get to the core issue, so that it doesn't happen again. Now think about a giant ocean liner, how does that ocean liner change direction? Well you think the captain turns the rudder, and turns the wheel, the wheel turns the rudder, but actually there's a little mini rudder on the big rudder called a trim tab. So the captain turns the wheel, the wheel turns the trim tab, the trim tab turns the rudder, and then the rudder turns the ship. You have to get to that trim tab thing. What is the problem in your business specifically that you ended up with a problem employee. Now maybe it was you. I once hired an assistant, and the problem was me. It wasn't the assistant, it was that I didn't do a good job in my hiring process, and that was when I figured, okay I have to do better at that. So you have to look at your processes, your people, and figure out what the core issue was that allows it to fester and get out of control, and then fix that problem. We fix that problem and then you shouldn't have at least that issue ever again.


Gregg Stebben:         I want to try to recap what you just said. If you're dealing with a difficult employee three steps to try to manage the situation. Step number one, listen, try to understand, give clear feedback, and document what is going on.


Steve Strauss:           Correct.

Gregg Stebben:         Step number two, don't become part of the problem. No gossip to other employees, and always remember you are the boss, not a friend. Correct?


Steve Strauss:           Yep.


Gregg Stebben:         And step number three, get to the core issue and think about how an ocean liner changes course.It's big but there's some tricks like what Steve called the trim tab. And think about the processes that got you there including things like your hiring processes. How'd I do?


Steve Strauss:           Well what we want to do is hire people like you who are such good listeners, Gregg.


Gregg Stebben:         And good note takers, by the way.


Steve Strauss:           There we go.


Gregg Stebben          Steve where can our listeners go to find out more about you and get more of your great advice for small businesses?


Steve Strauss:           Sure you can always find me on my website, which is or go to USA Today, find my column, Ask an Expert. I've got a couple of tips and hints there too, I think.


Gregg Stebben:         And I will also just remind folks that you are the author of 17 books including the best-selling, Small Business Bible. And for more great tips from Steve and lots of other small business experts check out Bank of America's online Small Business Community at


Narrator:                    Thanks for listening to ”The Heartbeat of Main Street” with ForbesBooks at and Bank of America at

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