Dealing with Difficult Team Members


Lately I have been posting a lot about motivation, I started thinking about how some people are more difficult to motivate than others.  In our everyday lives we encounter difficult people.  We can usually just bypass these people and move on with our day.  This situation becomes a bit more pressing when you are dealing with someone difficult at work.  Most of us have dealt with difficult co-workers at work, it’s not always easy.

I started doing some research on Google using the phrase “dealing with difficult employees.”  I really don’t like to use the word employee (I prefer team member or co-worker) but for research sake I “googled” it.  This must be a hot topic, returning over 41 million results.  I guess a lot of people are talking about how to deal with difficult employees.  I have a lot experience of dealing with difficult employees.  These people come across as unmotivated, having a tough time getting along with others and they have a hard time taking direction.

Over the last 24 hours I have been mulling this post over in my head; it’s a difficult subject to cover without sounding negative.  The first thing that I want to point out is that as a leader of a team or teams, almost 100% of the time the “difficult” person is on my team.  If I call myself a team leader and a team player, I need to do use all of my skills and resources to help this person improve, because we are on the same team.  Being a team leader involves coaching.  Coaching is one of the most powerful tools that you have as a business leader.

When dealing with a difficult person don’t ignore the problem.  It won’t go away on its own.   I have seen managers attempt to ignore a difficult person; it’s not a great idea.  By avoiding the issue, it will begin to erode away at the foundation and cohesiveness  of your team; you will lose the respect of your team.  By ignoring the problem, you are validating the behavior and it could spread, at the very least it will make your people not want to come to work.  It’s always our first inclination to work around a difficult person, bad idea.

The biggest mistake you can make when addressing a difficult team member is doing so before researching.  Gather the facts before you take action.   If you have been maintaining constant contact with your team, it will not be hard to have a fact finding conversation.  You may have known this employee for quite some time, take a walk with them, and find out what is going on.  You need to address the issue in a timely manner, but don’t jump the gun.  You will run the risk of making an attribution error.

After you have gathered all of the facts, talk with the employee involved.  Let them know that you want to help them succeed.  Talk to them about the issues that you and others are having.  Let them know they are valued and you want them to improve.  If the problems persist you will need to document events.  The best way to do this is to lay out an action plan.  This type of plan will allow them to feel a part of the process.  At the point when you start documenting struggles, team members can become disengaged.  Some will be left with resentment and never change; these will have to be dealt with using the policy laid out by your organization.  This could ultimately lead to termination.

Some people will improve and they will learn to grow outside of their character defects.  I always like to believe that people can change and I strive to give them every opportunity to do so.  In order for these people to change my organization needs to have a positively reinforced environment, to allow this growth.  That positivity starts with me, their coach.  I need to lead by example and be there to help guide them on the path to success, walk the walk. By taking the time to work with difficult people you will grow as leader, its not easy to do.  In the end you can learn something from every person you encounter.

Difficult people are tough to deal with please share with me any experiences or thoughts you may have on this topic by commenting below.


One thought on “Dealing with Difficult Team Members

  1. Pingback: THIS IS DIFFICULT: Character Conflicts at Work | I.T.'s About Business

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