Dealing with Passive Employees

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More common than the aggressive employee is the less offensive, passive employee. Passive employees are usually easy to get along with but they still might not fully meet your expectations as a leader. A passive employee tries to avoid conflict by telling you what they think you want to hear by following the rules and by asking you questions they could answer for themselves.

It is estimated that three times as many employees will be passive than aggressive. When pushed too far, a passive employee might become aggressive. To avoid that as a leader, use these three tips for dealing with the passive employee before things get out of control.

#1 Remove risk
Passive team members are very risk averse. As the leader, focus on reducing perceived risk by downplaying negative consequences, acknowledging success and celebrating forward momentum and improvement.

Since passive people care a great deal about the opinions of others and fitting in, the leader should reinforce the fact that other employees are buying in and help the team member feel included as a valuable contributor to the team’s success.

#2 Encourage trial
Since the passive employee will tend to resist change, the leader should encourage giving the change a try. By viewing the change as an experiment, the employee will see that if things don’t quite work out as planned, the plan will get tweaked and adjusted. The leader needs to avoid being too heavy-handed because that will only cause the passive team member to retreat more into his or her comfort zone.

#3 Use positive reinforcement
Passive team members will appreciate the leader’s efforts to create a positive work environment. Negative reinforcement will cause the passive employee to become more defensive and withhold suggestions for improvement. Praise is most effective when it is specific because it will create confidence to deal with the future challenges.

Helping your more passive employees be more assertive and constructive will help improve the performance of your work group and since the majority of employees will fall into the passive realm, being effective with these individuals will have a significant impact on your success.

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