Dealing with difficult team members

Picture this: as a leader, you’re a real go-getter. And then there’s that team member who always needs to analyze everything to death before finally getting into action. And the other one who is such a perfectionist that they never get the job finished. Why do these co-workers manage to get under your skin? And more importantly, how do you deal with your irritation?

Know Your Allergies

Your perspective is that your good quality is getting the job done quickly, smoothly and efficiently. Your pitfall arises when you exaggerate your good quality; and your team members experience your pitfall as impatience, not thoroughly thought through (a little impulsive, even). The opposite of your pitfall in a positive sense is your challenge, patience and precision in this example. And if you exaggerate your challenge you discover your allergy: overly-patient never gets going, overly-precise becomes perfectionism. And this is exactly why the over-analyzer and perfectionist get under your skin. This is an example of an analysis using Daniel Ofman’s core quadrants.

The Team Member’s Perspective

Let’s have a look at how the team member sees your behavior. Your team member sees themself as possessing a valuable characteristic; they think things through before acting, and dot all the i’s and crosses all the t’s, ensuring excellent quality of the end product. Exactly your challenge! And their pitfall is to over-analyze and nit-pick — exactly your allergy. And the team member’s allergy is exactly your pitfall: being impulsive, being satisfied too quickly, etc. And the more the you tend towards your pitfall, the more your team member experiences your behavior as difficult for them.

Difficult People Don’t Exist, Only Behavior You Don’t Appreciate

Bottom line is that you experience aspects of your team member’s behavior (the degree to which they display their good qualities towards their pitfall) as difficult. And they experience your behavior, the more you tend towards your pitfall, as difficult too. The more you start pushing, the more they dig in. The more they dig in, the more you push. And at the same time, you don’t regard yourself as being a difficult person and nor does your team member either! The key word is experience. Difficult people don’t exist, only behavior you don’t appreciate.

Change Your Perspective

As a leader, you need to look past your sympathies and antipathies. You should have the skills in-house to be able to deal with all your team members, not only those you like or those who are easy to get along with! So, how do you ensure your team member’s behavior doesn’t knock you off kilter? There are four major routes, none of which excludes the other:

  • Separate the behavior from the person. It isn’t the co-worker but their behavior you don’t appreciate. And that behavior comes out of the available skills at their disposal.
  • Look at what your team member does well. Focus on what the positive effect is, and appreciate the qualities your team member brings to the table.
  • Suppress your urge to convert. If everyone were exactly like you, the world would be very predictable. Yet also extremely boring. All forms of learning would become redundant, and personal development moot. Embrace diversity. Not only for your inner peace, but also for the product or service your organization offers.
  • Increase your tolerance. Tolerance only exists in relation to something; it needs an object — in this case, the behavior you don’t appreciate. By identifying and working on your challenges, you increase your tolerance for behavior that fits within your allergy. You are better able to deal with the behavior you don’t appreciate; it gives you less stress and tension.

In summary, difficult people don’t exist. As a leader, you will, however, encounter people whose behavior you don’t appreciate or that downright irritates you. This is because you are also human. By being aware of your qualities, pitfalls, and challenges, and by working on your challenges, you lessen the impact this kind of behavior has on you. Also, actively looking for the positive sides of your coworker helps to put this behavior into perspective.

Note: This post originally ran on the Lead Change Group site on February 11, 2019.

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