Dealing with Difficult Behavior in a Team

Dealing with Difficult Behavior in a Team

Each of us can probably think of at least one difficult personality with whom we have had to deal with in our teams. With a strategy, it is possible to learn what the team member does to annoy you, and what you might be doing to aggravate the situation.

Dealing with Difficult Situations

A difficult team member can be your boss, your co-worker, or anyone else on the team. He or she behaves in a way that is disruptive to business. In a work setting, often the functioning of a team is disturbed, leading to a disruption of the work flow, flared tempers, and gossip. The bottom line is that the work suffers and difficult situations cost organizations money.

To deal with difficult people on the team, we innately try to apply coping filters, such as:

  • Removing virtually all positive attributes about the team member. (“He was my worst hiring mistake…”)
  • Defaming the team member (We build consensus with others against the person)
  • Explaining the team member in negative terms.

Anger also plays a big part; feeling angry, we instinctively use anger to try to manage the situation.

To break the cycle of negativity, take time to answer the following questions:

  1. What observable behaviors or statements did the team member perform or say?
  2. What is the most positive interpretation an outside witness would make? The most negative?
  3. What will you gain by interpreting the difficult team member’s actions or words in as positive a light as possible?
  4. What would you do or say when you respond to the difficult team member if you viewed his or her actions in a positive light? What is stopping you from responding this way?

Key Tactics to Deal With Difficult Behavior

Three strategies will help you gather facts and use targeted strategies to deal with the team member or the situation.

Active Listening

The first tactic, and possibly the most important, is to listen with empathy, which is listening while trying to be sensitive to the various components and levels of the message. Try to listen for the following information:

  • The Why: Why is the team member communicating with me?
  • The Length: What can the size of the message tell me about the importance of the message to the team member?
  • The Words: Does the team member use formal, aloof language? Impatience?
  • The Volume and Pace: What emotional pressures can be sensed?

Related: Communication Outcome Based Team Building Active

Note taking after a Discussion

A second tactic is to write down your recollection of the discussion that just took place. The notes can be used to support your next communication with the difficult team member. Note taking also gives you the opportunity to plan and organize before the next communication takes place.

Writing Your Communication

Putting your thoughts into writing has three important benefits:

  1. The difficult team member cannot interrupt with an objection
  2. It’s easier to provide orderly communication in writing than in a discussion
  3. Written communication is pure; there is no body language to shape the outcome, reducing the possibility of mixed messages.

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