Dealing with Difficult Team Members

Let’s be honest, we’ve all dealt with difficult team members at one point or another. People who perhaps refuse to stick to their word and to do their part, show up late all the time, are always complaining and casting unwanted negativity on the rest of the team, or maybe just disrupting team efficiency altogether. As a team one of the most important skills that you will need in order to defuse these situations without stressing, is the ability to manage difficult people. Yet, one must learn to do this carefully and strategically. 

Common Signs of a Difficult Team Member:

  • Ignoring deadlines and/or timelines
  • Disregarding the suggestions and input from other members
  • Refusing to work with other members without unnecessary distractions & complaints
  • Consistently behaving insensitively causing other members to fear having to work with this person
  • Negatively impacting the overall efficiency of the team

Dealing with these people can be especially hard because we all know that the foundation for successful teamwork comes from communication. Therefore, situations involving a team member who is less than cooperative can become particularly frustrating. In any case, rather than adding even more stress to your already busy schedules by pulling this person’s weight, make it a special point to bring them back into the team as soon as you notice difficulties. 

Dealing with Difficult Team Members

In order to go about dealing with a difficult team member strategically, here are 5 practical tips:

  1. Do your best to refrain from fearing the conflict within your team, and to handle it with the confidence that you’re communicating in the best way possible. Offer to involve the entire team in this civil confrontation, and set up a time and place as soon as possible. Confronting this person should be done in a neutral location, easily accessible to each member attending.

“Unity is strength…when there is teamwork and collaboration, wonderful things can be achieved.” -Mattie J.T. Stepanek

  1. Tap into your emotional intelligence and approach this person with sympathy. Ask them if they’re actions have been caused by anything going on in their personal lives. If yes, try your best to sympathize with their situation. Next, regardless of whether their situation is personal or not, offer to help. Do they need extra support? A better understanding of what they are expected to be doing? A different method of communication? Is there something you’re doing that doesn’t work for them? Often, you can see a difficult team members behavior turn around just by reaching out and offering to listen to them. Dealing with Difficult Team Members
  2. Offer to include this team member in an event that you and the rest of the team are planning to attend in the near future. If not an event, set up some all-inclusive team building exercises to try and connect with this member on a more personal level. Their behavior may just be due to a feeling of being left out by the rest of the group.
  3. If this team member does not willingly highlight their difficult behaviors, make sure you’re prepared to draw their attention to them. Explain why these behaviors are causing issues for the rest of the team, and the impact of them. Note that it’s important to focus on this person’s behaviors and to refrain from associating them with the team member personally. 
  4. If all fails, take action and either report this person to your higher-ups or, if you are in a position to do so, fire them.

We always hope that tips 1-4 will do the trick so we can avoid resorting to tip 5, of course! 



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