Management Matters

A Manager’s Guide to Working with Difficult Team Members

Date Posted: 02/13/2017

Manager’s Guide to Working with Difficult Team Members

Your blood is boiling, your fists are clenched, and you’re just about ready to turn into a dragon breathing fire on this difficult person. Welcome to the world of team management!

You’ve probably had one too many episodes like this in your career. Why do you think we’ve ended up with thousands of life coaches, management experts and an endless number of books, articles (like this one) that teach us about how to deal with difficult people, difficult situations, difficult conversations?

It’s not easy leading teams and working with difficult team members. It can be stressful. But it can also be considered a challenge to be overcome. But first, the “Why”.

Why Work With Difficult Team Members?

The short answer is because there will always be people who see, do, think and feel differently. No matter how considerate we try to be, there will sometimes be someone who challenges our patience. When we look at things from the perspective of what’s within our control and what’s beyond our control, we immediately free ourselves from the negative reactions that are so easy to entertain when faced with a difficult team member.

We control our thoughts. We control our emotions. We control our actions. Right thinking, right feeling, right behavior takes a lot of conscious effort and practice but doing this can make us face difficult situations in a calm, objective and decisive way.

How To Work With Challenging People

  1. Define roles clearly. Make sure that reiterating roles and accountabilities are communicated in a calm but firm manner without any apologies. Avoid plaintive or accusatory language. Mind the tone used when speaking.
  2. Define specific objectives. When repeating or emphasizing specific objectives, set clear, realistic goals and level the field for the members of your team. Setting clear expectations from each team member and scheduling frequent progress checks makes every touchpoint a collaborative, consultative session instead of a boxing match. Let members of your team give their suggestions.
  3. Hear them out. Listen. People naturally want to feel heard and respected. Draw out their concerns. Do not let it simmer until it’s ready to explode.
  4. Agree to Disagree. It’s healthy. Crucial conversations and mutual respect happens when a group of people do not share the same views and opinions but agree to give each other an equal opportunity to share and explain their views in a respectful manner. At the end of the day, a path to accomplishing the goal always emerges.
  5. Give Factual, Constructive Feedback and Support. When giving feedback, engage the team member by presenting factual information as a basis for the decision.  Agree to a regular schedule for checks-and-reviews to see if the decision was the right one. On-going and consistent support is often the ingredient in nurturing employees’ motivation back to health.
  6. Focus on team member’s skills and strengths. Not everyone can perform everybody’s task or fill everybody’s role. Identify and leverage the skills of your team members. Team members also need to know that their contributions are acknowledged. Nudge them along and work with them so they learn to build on their strengths while working on their weaknesses.
  7. Leave emotions out the door. High- emotionally-charged situations present a clear danger for miscommunication, misunderstanding, unnecessary workplace conflicts and strained workplace relations. When you’re feeling like exploding, step out and take a walk to clear your head and get some air. Do not release your frustration by charging into your team members cubicle and screaming expletives. This violates common decency and code of conduct in a workplace setting.
  8. Wait 24 hours before sending an angry email. Your touch-typist side wants to get a 500-word email out in all caps right now but believe me, IT DOES NOT SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Hold it:
  • Turn off the computer.
  • Put down the smart phone.
  • Have a cup of tea.
  • Take a walk.
  • Listen to Debussy or Vivaldi.
  • Take a short nap.

If you wake up and still feel the same way, repeat from a to f.

Lastly, remember that before managers became managers, they had to fall down at least once. And someone believed in them enough to give them a chance and invest in their success. When you’ve groomed better team players, you’re well on your way. Welcome to the world of leadership!

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