Sooner or later we all have them. We don’t ever wish for them, but they show up nonetheless. Difficult people, non-performers, ‘challenging’ team members, whatever you want to call them. Whenever conflict or low performance arises, we are tempted to avoid it, procrastinate dealing with it, or ask someone else to resolve it for us. But the truth is that anytime we let conflict go – for whatever reason – it only gets worse. So we know we must deal with these people and their impact on the team. But how? (Yes, I get this question a lot. Any time we have difficulty with people we lead, we need to start a process, and fortunately that process is the same for nearly every situation. Before we get started, though, there are two questions we need to ask ourselves:
- Can They Change? This deals with ability.
- Will They Change? This deals with attitude.
Meet with Them, Privately, ASAP to Discuss Their BehaviorMeet with the person privately and honestly and candidly level with them. Clearly, lay out what the issue is, giving specific tangible examples, of the undesirable actions or behavior. Don’t be vague, general or use only secondhand reports. Don’t attribute bad motives to them, because they will only become defensive. Assume that their motives are good, and that it’s just their behavior that is ineffective. Be sure to explain how their actions are negatively affecting the organization, the team and you. (Never go into one of these meetings angry or frustrated, because you won’t be effective in that state of mind.) Specifically, be sure to explain:
- What you’re seeing.
- How it makes you (and others) feel.
- How it’s impacting the team/organization.
Give Them Time to RespondAsk their side of the story. Find out how they see the situation, what they were thinking, and other circumstances (such as personal life challenges or tragedy) that might temporarily be causing the unwanted behavior. Understanding what the person was/is thinking is key, because it’s our thinking that drives our behavior. And our ultimate goal is to change their thinking to permanently change their behavior. Sometimes we find out the person ‘just wasn’t thinking’ at all, which is somewhat funny, but isn’t very helpful or an excuse for bad behavior. There may be several reasons that trigger the inappropriate behavior which must be determined. That’s why you don’t want to go in gun blazing. You might be wrong. My experience has been that:
- 50% of the time people don’t realize there is a problem.
- 30% of them realized there is a problem but don’t know how to solve it.
- 20% realize there is a problem, but don’t want to solve it.