Do you have a difficult team member who constantly causes trouble?

One of the most challenging parts of being a manager is dealing with team members who have problems following instructions, meeting goals, adapting to change, collaborating, and communicating with others. Such disruptive behavior affects the morale of the team and its performance. Leaders must address such situations on priority to build a safe and productive workplace.  

It can be tempting to avoid confronting the problem, but difficult situations do not resolve themselves without intervention. Also, as a leader, you must be mindful of the message you convey to your team through your conduct and how you deal with people and problems. It is essential to acknowledge the problem and handle it with care. Here are some tips to help you deal with difficult team members – 

Be direct and respectful in your conversation – Speak to the team member about the problem openly and respectfully. Avoid blaming them and using negative language. Share concrete examples of unacceptable behavior and how it impacts the team. Ask questions and allow the employee to have a say in the matter. They may be unaware of how their words or actions affect the team and work culture.

Listen – Listen to what the team member shares about the situation. Give the employee a chance to explain their side. You will gain insight into the team member’s perspective and the problem. There may be factors you did not know, e.g., lack of clarity about expectations, workload, uncertainty about the future, family issues, or lack of awareness about the impact of their behavior on others. Hearing them and demonstrating your support is a good first step to resolving the problem.

Set clear expectations – Set clear expectations and objectives for the employee to hold them accountable for their work. Clear expectations mean stating what you want, why you want it, and by when. Co-develop the modus operandi with them to foster ownership. When you clearly lay out what you need, you can speak to them about poor performance if they don’t do what they need to.

Give honest feedback – Provide candid and actionable feedback to help the employee learn and develop. Be explicit about the negative impact caused by their behavior or non-performance.

Extend support to remedy their challenges – Direct them to the tools and resources available to help them improve, e.g., learning and development programs, coaching, mentoring, employee assistance programs to deal with personal issues, etc. It shows your support and desire for a fair resolution.

Clarify consequences – Do not let consistent bad behavior continue without any repercussions. If you’ve tried to address issues with them and have not seen any progress, let them know the consequences, e.g., triggering a formal performance management process. 

Document everything – Consistent and objective documentation is crucial to deal with difficult employees. Document the steps you’ve taken to correct the employee’s behavior, the goals you set together, and the potential consequences of not meeting them. It allows for transparency and serves as evidence of the fair treatment of employees. Keep your HR department in the loop about the situation. 

Know when it is time to part ways – If, despite all the support, an employee is not able or willing to change their behavior/performance, it may be time to terminate the employee. 

Finally, as a leader, it is critical to manage these issues cautiously, considering the message you convey to the team by your actions or otherwise. Managers can help drive positive change by initiating direct and respectful conversations, actively listening to team members’ points of view, setting clear expectations, providing honest feedback, and offering support to overcome problems. However, if all efforts fail, parting ways with the employee may become necessary for the overall well-being of the team and the organization.