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One can say that a project is like a musical symphony. It needs all its members kept in perfect tune to achieve a “melody of happiness”, in other words, delivering the project’s outcome successfully. In this context, the project manager is like a maestro, conducting their team with elegance to carry out the program as planned. But, what happens when an employee is out of tune? How can a manager deal with difficult team members? Always keep in mind that “the show must go on”!

Several reports regarding workplace productivity dealing with “toxic” personalities in the team, indicate they cause 30-40% rates of reduction in productivity. Difficult personalities among the team can hinder progress, disrupt workflow, diminish productivity, lower a team’s morale, cause stress and increase chances of employee and costumer churn.

As a project manager the chances of encountering difficult team members are extremely high. Knowing how to manage difficult team members and troublesome personalities is vital as they are found to be in each and every workplace, they are literally everywhere. So, brace yourself and be prepared to identify and deal with them.

How to manage difficult team members

  • Mirror-mirror on the wall

Before you start pointing the finger at others take a step back and reflect on your own behavior. As a manager your first obligation is to inspire and guide your team to better performance. You are the one setting the tone and since all eyes are watching the maestro that’s conducting the performance, if your direction is poor this will be reflected in the team. Invest time in setting things straight, set clear goals and feasible objectives, draw fine lines between personal responsibilities and observe the workflow.

  • Identify the cause

Get to know each member of the team, their character and their capabilities and stay alert to detect irregularities, any high or low tunes that could create disharmony. Examine the dynamics of the team and spot the dysfunctions. The most important thing is to recognize the problem at its root, not its manifestations. As soon as you have established the source of the problem, who is creating the issues and have recognized the responsible behaviors you can proceed to tailoring the applicable solutions.

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  • Always ponder the question: Why do they behave that way?

Have in mind that behind every difficulty lies a reason, usually a long-standing problem. At all times try to figure out what the underlying cause of trouble may be and consider why the person is behaving this way. Is this a regular thing, how often do these problematic behaviors arise and since when did the signs of difficulty start to first appear? Talk to the team in a discreet manner and find out more information. Pinpoint the reasons they are being difficult, and start working on the proper approach.  

  • Set the frequencies

Meet one-on-one with the difficult employee. Getting to know with whom and what issues you are dealing with is always effective. Be mindful and attentive, listen to what they have to say, show empathy and compassion. Address the problem and talk it through. Work out a solution together and keep track of their progress. Changes do not happen overnight, so you might need to attend to the problem more than once and provide different approaches and solutions.

  • Follow up and give time

Check in with your team on a regular basis and keep an eye on the difficult employee. It is not easy to track changes in behavior, so an insight from the team might be very useful. In case the behavior persists, ask them how they feel about the changes, and if the negativity endures work on a new approach. Give gentle reminders and try to keep them on the right track.

Team performance is the alpha and omega of a successful endeavor and always reflects the capacity and skills of the manager. Pay attention to your team, inspire team work and cultivate an environment with a strong work ethic built on trust. Make sure you thank your team for their efforts on a regular basis and show your disapproval for bad behavior.