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Section 15  Difficult Team Members

          Sometimes your team is a team. More often they are a group of individuals and each needs to be managed differently. Sometimes you may even feel that they might be from different planets and run the gamut of skills and commitment.

            Disagreement among team members in relationships, and organizations can often come with the territory! But every working environment has its difficult people, however you can quickly learn to identify team members who are likely to be difficult quickly and therefore develop strategies for coping with them effectively. 

Key: Your Own Behavior 

            First of all, you may have to face the fact that the behaviors of team members who are consistently difficult will not just go away. Wishing that a person would change is a waste of time. How you react to that personís behavior is the important thing. Once you have a clear picture of your own behavior, you can decide what changes in your tactics will gain control over difficult encounters.

            Lynne Gaines has suggested some grand tactics for handling immediate challenges to the general peace and to your personal dignity: 

        Calm down.
If you start feeling absolutely beside yourself, find any excuse to leave. Go for a break, come back when you have control of yourself.

        Lower your voice.
The louder the difficult person talks, the softer you answer. The team member will then have to calm down to hear you.

        Choose your ground.
Make up your mind whether you are dealing with a difficult situation or a difficult person.

        Guard your perspective.
Donít take the behavior personally. Donít internalize the screaming or the complaint.

        Never cry.
Crying is like bleeding, when attackers smell blood they keep coming!

            While these measures will help you get through the initial assault, you still need a wide range of strategies for dealing with them on a long term basis. The following steps can help: 

        Assess and categorize difficult team members. This not only puts them in useful perspective but also helps establish emotional distance.  

        Validate your assessment with other people. Can you identify some specific patterns in their behavior? Would it work to speak directly and tactfully to them about their behavior? What degree of risk would there be in doing so? Is taking the risk actually worth the effort?  

        Plan a strategy for each different category. Since blaming and hoping wonít help, concentrate on solving the communicating and coping problems.  

        Practice your strategy. Identify a confidant and practice, practice, practice. You need to say the words aloud in a practice situation and even consider role-playing.  

        Whenever you see the difficult person, prepare yourself psychologically. In the final analysis, you will have to choose. You can accept the difficult behavior, change your response to the difficult person, or terminate the relationship.  

[Lynne Gaines. ďManaging Smart,Ē Executive Female  1996; 4 (5): 13-15].  

A Few Words on Difficult Team Members  

         Difficult team members usually know what they are doing and get satisfaction out of being difficult! They have a tendency and have made a habit out of treating many people that way, not just you. They probably have been acting this way since they were young.

Often times we give difficult team members permission to treat us badly which causes them to continue their behavior. We donít need to be in a position to let them control us and a few of the power tools that are effective include:  

        Cool down and avoid blaming or punishing others  

        Do not react as you have in the past and make a priority to seek out strategies to use  

        Focus on the long term solutions, rather than all the problems presented  

        Involve a mediator for an objective overview and intervention, if needed  

Strategies in Dealing with Difficult Team Members 

            Herbert Kindler has suggested numerous strategies in dealing with difficult team memberís that can be considered, as listed below: 

        Preserve the dignity and self-respect of team members. 

             Preserving and respecting the dignity if all team memberís is key for future working relationships and success in the team. In a heated discussion it is easy to say something demeaning. It is important to focus on issues and not personalities. Until proven otherwise, assume the other team member is expressing a legitimate concern when disagreeing. Even if someone who disagrees with you appears stubborn or stupid, you wonít get closer to resolving a dispute by putting him or her down

        Listen with empathy to the team member.  

            When you listen to another team memberís view, you put yourself in their shoes. You actually see from that personís perspective and feel the other personís emotional state. If your body language or tone communicate an uncaring or hostile attitude, you may also respond defensively.

When you listen with a neutrality, it suspends critical judgment. When you listen to fully understand, you convey the message: ďI respect you as a person. Your thoughts and feelings are important to me whether or not I agree with them.Ē

        Donít expect to change othersí behavioral style. 

 Because stakes are usually high, the reflex reaction to any disagreement or conflict is the desire to change the other team memberís basic behavioral style. Changing your own behavior is tough enough; it requires sensitive awareness, compelling motivation and persistence.   

Changing behavioral traits of another is almost impossible in dealing with difficult team members. Behavior change when either person changes their customary pattern of relating.

        Focus on the issue.  

Keep the issue at the forefront and donít bring in other issues or data that are not important to the discussion-taking place. 

[Herbert Kinder. Managing Disagreement Constructively  (Menlo Park, California: Crisp Publication, Inc., 1988), 3-5]. 

Motivation and Team Members

                 Motivation increases the ability to maximize job satisfaction. A staff memberís who enjoys his or her workplace can be energized rather than drained by the work effort. It also leads to the value that particular job setting has and decreases the inclination to leave it for other than serious career reasons.

 Motivation is essentially the state of mind with which a person views a particular task or goal. Because team leaders and team members often have difficulty directly motivating other team members, creating a positive environment where team members are made to feel part of the team should be valued and reinforced.

 William Franklin describes motivation as spontaneous, internal, uniquely personal and often colored by a team members life experiences and lists the following motivators and demotivators as responsible:  


        Recognition and praise  












        Constant criticism  

        Inappropriate goals  

        Ignoring team members and their contributions  

        Inferior tools or materials  


        Lack of clear expectations  

        Lack of feedback  

        Negative feedback  

[William Franklin, ďWhy You Canít Motivate Everyone,Ē Supervisor Management  1994, 25 (6); 25]. 

        Dealing constructing with difficult team members, recognizing key features in your own behavior and providing a motivating environment has the potential for profound impact. Team memberís have the potential to open themselves up to making real contact with other members, unfinished agenda and business is finished and the teamís vision of what is possible expands.