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How should you deal with difficult team members

A step-by-step guide to dealing with difficult team members.

This article was first published on Hearti-Lab.

Many startup work environments are fast, tense and harsh. With pressure to grow sales and revenue, and the ever increasing benchmarks and KPIs, leaders and team members are under tremendous stress to perform.

Under these conditions, stumbling blocks can come in all shapes and forms. One of the most common cause of failure for startups and small companies is when key team members (including co-founders) fall out with each other. The clash could be due to differences in opinions, characters, backgrounds and experiences. As a leader, you should nip the problem in its bud. But where do you start and how should you deal with a difficult team member?

Start from ground zero

Find the root cause of the frustration. Is the team member difficult to deal with because of his/her bad attitude, poor work ethics, or lack of right skill sets? Remember that conflicts may be caused by divergence in views. What do you see in the drawing below at first glance? You will be surprised that there may be varying answers among your team members.

Stay cool

When your team member responds with a negative statement or challenges your authority, stay cool. Do not get into an argument in order to establish your stand. You must be clear minded and respond rationally. Your frustration will be visible to other team members, and this may escalate the problem.

Understand the scope of the problem and its impact

You need to understand the scope of the issue and how it impacts your business and other colleagues.

Is it a one-off problem, or does it have a lasting impact? Observing the difficult team member, and evaluating the consequences of the problem will help you find your solution.

Take a step back

As a leader, you need to hear and accept different views.

You have to decide if that team member’s behaviour is helpful when analysing a situation. For example, this “difficult” team member may be the devil’s advocate you need when you are stuck with tried-and-tested solutions to a problem.

Listen to other team members

Is this team member also giving a headache to other members?

If possible, ask others if they notice the same behaviour. Feedback from your peers will help you understand the problem in a new light. If the team member and you are the only ones butting heads, maybe it’s time to evaluate your own behaviour.

Set a one-to-one meeting

Have a one-to-one meeting where you, as the manager, listen and discuss the issue with your team member. Allow the team member to air his/her grievances and listen to their suggestions for improvements to be made. If you do not agree with their suggestions, voice it out and guide the team member towards a better solution during the meeting.

After listening and evaluating the problem, work out a resolution plan together. If possible, document the learning points after the meeting.

Follow up, and give time

Most changes do not come overnight, or may be short-lived. It is important to have a constant conversation with the team member to monitor the progress of the situation.

Do not beat yourself up

Dealing with difficult team members can be exhausting and time consuming. If you realise that your team members are not pleased with your management, do not give up! There are many resources for you to research on the best practices that will help you become a better leader.

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This article was first published on Hearti-Lab. The author, Keith Lim is a corporate leader and entrepreneur. He is the founder of 2 start-ups in mobile payment and insurance technology. Previously, Keith was the Managing Director with Moody’s Analytics.

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