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The saying, “One bad apple spoils the bunch” is very relevant when it comes to workplace team dynamics. When people work closely together for long periods of time, one dissonant personality can disrupt the group’s harmony and have lasting negative effects.

The “bad apple” can take many different forms on a team: the naysayer who constantly complains and shoots down other people’s ideas without offering other solutions, the gossiper who spreads rumors and plays office politics, the conversation dominator who takes over and doesn’t let anyone else pitch ideas. If these people are allowed to continue their bad behavior, everyone’s productivity, communication and teamwork will suffer.

Dealing with difficult people is part of your job as a manager, but it is a task that many leaders dread and would prefer to avoid. If you are tempted to ignore a problem with a challenging employee, remember that investing effort in conflict resolution now will save you time and headaches in the future.

Developing a Plan for Dealing With Difficult People

Get the facts.

Have you already received complaints about a divisive employee from other members of your team? What have you personallly observed about this person and her impact on the team dynamic? Make a list of unacceptable actions and concrete examples of when they occurred.

Address the problem directly.

If you have a troublemaker on your staff, your other employees will expect you to handle the problem before it gets out of hand. Don’t put up with his behavior and hope that the issue will resolve itself. Set aside time for a private conflict resolution chat with him and communicate clearly and honestly what the situation is and what needs to change. Focus on his specific behavior patterns, and explain calmly but firmly why his actions are not appropriate in the workplace.

Be a manager, not a friend.

Sometimes leaders avoid dealing with difficult people because they want to be well-liked by their employees. It is your responsibility, however, to be a good manager to all of your employees, which sometimes means being unpopular. Be assertive and outline a clear plan of action for your employee to turn her behavior around. Communicate what results you want to see and what consequences– whether it is disciplinary action or termination– will occur if your expectations aren’t met. Set a deadline to check in again, and be prepared to enforce the consequences if necessary.

Have you ever had to deal with a “bad apple” you were managing? How did you approach conflict resolution?

Learn more about EDSI’s Dealing With Difficult People course.

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