6 Tips to Deal with Working with a Difficult Team Member

This post was written by Jennifer Sanders

Teamwork makes the dream work. The slogan appears somewhere in any teambuilding workshop employees attend. Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.

Teamwork can be a living nightmare when team members don’t get along. Tasks take longer, and tension is in the air. The unhealthy environment created causes mutual unhappiness.

The key to success is dealing with the team members making the situation difficult. Managers and co-workers must be able to confront and deal with all types of people. The aim is to align all team members’ vision so that the task gets done.

For managers and employees dealing with team members making work difficult, here are some tips:

1. Define the difficulty

Difficult team members take on different forms. Bullies try to force the team to move in a certain direction. Whiners spend so much time moaning and procrastinating, affecting productivity and deadlines.

The toddler tantrum type explodes with anger when given a task. The indifferent team member does as little as possible and doesn’t care about the consequences.

Negative team members are naysayers and predict the worst-case scenario at every turn. Team members might bring personal problems to the workplace. Distracted and often distraught, focusing on the task at hand is a problem.

Each team and each team member are unique. An exhaustive list of team member types is impossible. The important thing is recognizing the personality traits that prevent the employee from working with the team.

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2. Step away and consider what was said

After the initial meeting, it can take some time to process what was said. Often, what team members express as frustrations and barriers are valid points. Such points should be taken into consideration for future relations. A team member may be indifferent because the team is full of cliques and their response is to disengage.

Taking the time to think about what the person has said means that the next step will be carefully considered and appropriate. The wrong approach can exacerbate the issue. The idea is to make things better, not worse.

Terry Jacobs works for essaygeeks.co.uk. He says, “Team members get on each other’s nerves. It’s normal. Walk away and avoid dealing with things in the heat of the moment. It’s an unproductive approach.”

3. Determine the best approach

Managers and co-workers need the capacity to confront and deal with uncooperative team members decisively. Doing so without alienating the person is the challenge. Immediately rule out giving the person a dressing down in front of the team. Regardless of how bad the behavior and the other employee’s anger levels, such a confrontation is unwise.

A good people person knows when to withdraw from a situation before behaving in an unprofessional manner. Unbecoming behavior can result in long-term consequences such as disciplinary measures or termination. The best thing to do is to calmly determine the way forward and the best approach to deal with the difficult team member.

4. Open the conversation

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Getting to the bottom of the behavior of a difficult team member is essential. Discovering the root of the problem makes finding the solution easier. An initial meeting is necessary to begin the process.

Invite the employee to a private meeting. This is the opening move. Employees appreciate being able to discuss issues and problems with a team member. In most instances, discovering the source of the issue will be simple. At other times, a lot of probing is necessary.

The most important thing to do in such a meeting is to listen. The person must feel the person is 100% focused on the conversation and taking in what is being said. Ask a few pointed questions to get more information.

Obvious solutions may present themselves, and their implementation may resolve the issue entirely. No further action is necessary.

5. It’s time to act and face the consequences

Before moving to a confrontation, try to resolve the matter with an open, honest conversation. Professionals can talk about work-related matters without getting into an ugly argument.

Most people steer clear of confrontation. Words spoken cannot be taken back. You might handle it gracefully later on, but the damage is already done. People’s feelings are hurt, and a resolution is impossible.

Unfortunately, the only way to deal with some situations is to confront the person making things difficult or unpleasant. Undertake confrontation only as a last resort.

In a confrontation, stick to the issue at hand and don’t let the other person digress to unrelated matters. State the planned outcome which is to resolve the matter so that the team can move forward. Avoid unnecessary criticism and words like ‘you always’ and ‘I resent you.’ A more productive approach is to say ‘why do you’ and ‘I don’t like it when.’

6. Deal with the aftermath

People don’t like being confronted or called out on bad behavior. The difficult team member may feel wronged after a confrontation. If things went too far, an apology might be necessary. A discussion around the goals of the team and how to make the situation work will go a long way to resolving the matter.

Now that team members know how others feel, there’s a chance the difficult behavior may stop. People behave in certain ways without even knowing it. When the problem is raised, a different perspective might emerge.

Thinking about it afterward, the team member could feel embarrassed about the uncooperative behavior. An uncooperative team member could be recalcitrant and refuse to change. Follow formal channels to lodge a grievance and demand disciplinary action.

Normalizing team relations in the wake of a confrontation is necessary. All team members must be focused on the outcome and the role to play in making the project or task successful.

To conclude

Where team members are difficult, the matter must be addressed. The approach to addressing the matter needs to be considered and not determined in the heat of the moment. Confrontation may be necessary, and that requires ‘fighting fair.’ After a confrontation, the team must regroup and continue working together. Dealing with difficult personalities is possible with the right approach.

Jennifer Sanders is a writer and an editor from London. She loves sport,  to listen to music, and to communicate with different people. Find Jennifer on Twitter and Facebook.

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