How to Deal with Difficult or Challenging Team Members

How to Deal with Difficult or Challenging Team Members

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Have you ever dealt with a difficult team member?

Perhaps one who refuses to adhere to processes and standards, or one who comes in late all the time, or maybe someone who is always complaining and making things unpleasant for the rest of the team?

As a manager one of the skills that you will need to be able to use frequently is the ability to manage difficult people including difficult team members.

When you are not able to manage a difficult team member effectively this person can:

  • Withhold their effort from the team
  • Express negativity and influence other members in the same way
  • Violate interpersonal group norms
  • Impact the effective functioning of the team

In some cases this person may be difficult on purpose, but often that is not the person’s intent.

A person can be difficult due to:

  • Unpleasant past experiences that they bring to work
  • Current stress either at home or at work
  • Significant personality differences between the team and this person
  • Lack of motivation

As a manager you will need to identify the disruptive behaviour, understand the group dynamics and the reactions of the group and lastly address the issue with honesty and tact.

Tips to Manage Difficult Team Members

Over the next couple of pages we will look at some of the reasons people become difficult, the seven types of difficult people and how to manage them, along with a four step process to deal with and manage difficult team members.

1. Why people become difficult

There are many reasons that a person goes from being a productive team member to a difficult one.

Here are some common reasons:

  • They have reached the limit of their capabilities which leads to frustration for both them and their peers.
  • They become unmotivated or disengaged and tend to withdraw from the team. This can happen with high performers who are not being given additional responsibility.
  • They are distracted by personal reasons and lose focus.
  • They find the role to challenging or not challenging enough which leads to a loss of motivation.
  • Different people express themselves in different ways and it is important to be able to manage each of these types effectively.

2. The seven types of difficult team members

There are seven types of difficult team members much like snow white and her seven dwarfs.

  • The slumper – lack enthusiasm, is lazy and likes to just tide things over.
  • The dumper – likes to delegate their tasks to other team members and focus on what they like to do.
  • The grumper – is almost impossible to please and loves to complain about
  • everything.
  • The thumper – uses his or her aggression to bully, intimidate and order peers around.
  • The trumper – is competitive and always wants to win and have the final say in situations.
  • The jumper – loves the limelight and the attention and wants the glory to centre on him, will not share praise with the team.
  • The bumper – likes to blame other people, finds faults in others and defends
  • oneself as much as possible.

3. Step 1: Acknowledge the problem

As a manager it is important that you are not scared of conflict within the team. The problem with the team should be dealt with as soon as possible. The person may not even be aware of their behaviour. The confrontation should be in a neutral location and may involve the entire team if required.

4. Step 2: Draw attention to the behaviours

You will need to draw the person’s attention to the behaviours that are causing problems for the rest of the team, along with the impact of these behaviours. Remember to focus on the person’s behaviour and not attack the person. You could use the formula ‘ I have a problem, when you do X, Y results and I feel Z’. Where X is the behaviour, Y are the consequences and Z are the feeling associated with the response.

5. Step 3: Determine the solution

Involve the person in determining the solution to the problem. Ask them to commit to changing their behaviour and also decide at this point how will you measure success. How will you consider the problem rectified? This should be agreed upon by both you and your team member.

6. Step 4: Make the accountable

In some cases you may want to let the employee know the consequences of continuing with this behaviour. If the behaviour has affected the team powerfully, you may want the team to be part of the entire process including any punitive action that may be taken. Each situation is different and as a manager you would need to determine the best course of action to deal with each person and their unique solution.

7. Dealing with the seven dwarfs

Here are some ways to deal with the seven difficult types of people that we met earlier.

  • The slumper—Give them feedback, find out what motivates them and set goals to challenge them.
  • The dumper— Give feedback, make their role and responsibilities clear and teach them how to delegate effectively.
  • The grumper—Give feedback, encourage them to look on the bright side or to see both the pro’s and con’s. Empathise and herd them forward.
  • The thumper—Start with feedback, be assertive with them and not aggressive, don’t argue with them instead ask questions and look for common ground.
  • The trumper—Tell them what impact their behaviour has on the team, put things in writing and don’t play their game, they will have objections, anticipate them and handle them accordingly.
  • The jumper—Give them feedback and do not elevate them above the rest of the team, encourage them to work in teams and share praise and criticism equally.
  • The bumper—Start with feedback, build their confidence up and encourage them to look at things objectively and be constructive when reviewing others.