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How to manage difficult team members

At one point or another, there’ll come a time when you have to handle a situation with a team member who can be described as ‘difficult’. Perhaps you already have. Or perhaps you’re dealing with the rising tension at present and know the moment is just on the horizon.

How you deal with such team members will say a lot about your leadership style and will also set the tone for your workplace at the same time, which is why it’s essential you know exactly how to go about it.

Below, find 5 tips for managing difficult team members in a way that’s productive and beneficial for all parties involved.


Identify the origin.

It’s important to locate ‘ground zero’ when it comes to hiccups in the workplace. There is typically a single source from which the tension and difficulty comes. Don’t just focus on those who are only responding to anger with anger…find the origin. Identifying this one team member will often allow you to manage the difficulty head-on and on a quicker timeline.


Seek to understand the problem.

Try to discover the team member in question’s reasons for being difficult. Often, an employee’s bad attitude in the workplace can be traced back to a feeling of frustration or even inadequacy. For instance, are they frustrated because changes keep getting made to a project they’re working on, thus affecting their ability to complete it? Or have new implementations in the workplace caused them to feel inadequate as far as their skillset is concerned? Perhaps they struggle under high-pressure situations, or they may simply have difficulty with receiving feedback. Observe the employee and listen to what they’re being difficult about. This will allow you to see the big-picture of the situation.


Speak with your team.

Often, it’s helpful to get a better idea of how the whole team has been affected by the team member in question. Carefully ask others if they’ve noticed difficult behavior in the workplace and if it’s in any way disrupted their work. The reason for this is to ensure that the situation is simply not a clash of personalities between yourself and your employee. If it is, there may only be simply changes in communication required. However, if the whole team is indeed affected, then it’s time to address the issue.


Set up a one-on-one meeting.

The worst thing you could do is discipline a difficult employee in front of the whole team. Apart from being humiliating, it can also result in anger, lowered self-esteem, and lowered morale as well. Instead of wanting to improve, the team member in question is more apt to want to find another place to work altogether. Instead, pull the team member aside for a private, one-on-one meeting. Discuss the problem at hand and do your part to better understand how they feel about the situation. Allow them to air their grievances and listen to their suggestions for improvement. Then, resolve the issue together. If they offer suggestions for change, try to implement that change together. Giving them responsibility may improve their attitude.


Provide gentle reminders.

Change takes time. Most of us can agree that big changes rarely occur overnight, and that will certainly be the case in the workplace as well. There will be times when you’ll need to offer gentle reminders to the team member in question if their behavior persists after your conversation. Ask them how they feel about the changes in progress and what more you can do to better facilitate them. For the most part, people do want to do better and improve, and sometimes a little guidance and encouragement can go a long way.


Using the tips and strategies above, you’ll be well-equipped to manage difficult team members in the future in a way that’s productive and beneficial to your team as a whole. While dealing with difficult employees isn’t always a leader’s favorite thing to do, it also tends to be a shining moment where leaders can truly excel and make the most of their positions. It takes time and practice, but with both, you’ll become better and better at the task, which will make you a more effective leader in turn.

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