Dealing With Trouble Makers

If a person in your team is creating problems or is not following the processes and guidelines which affect the quality of work, you have a problem in hand.


Step 1: Separate Person from the Problem

The first step in addressing the conflict in a productive manner is to separate the person from the problem. Very often we feel angry at what the team member has said or done that we see the person as the problem. As long as you do that, there is little chance of an improved working relationship.

Managers need to understand that work problem is not a personal issue. First, identify it as a work-related problem. But what happens when a person involved is manipulative and is the actual cause of conflict? There are exceptions and in such cases, we cannot separate the problem from the person, because the person is the problem.

Step 2: Understand the Facts

Don’t form your opinion without knowing the facts. When dealing with people, it is important to remember that everyone does not see things from the same perspective. What is important to you as a manager may not be of any importance to the team member or what is important to one team member may be of least importance to another. Unfortunately, we usually overlook the facts and follow the assumptions. I am often reminded of an incident which happened some years back.

Example: One night I was engrossed editing a document I had taken home from work. My daughter who was then 5 years of age, wanted to make a greeting card all by herself. She wanted to know how wide the card should be. Since she was too small to understand the measurement in terms of inches or centimeters, I answered, “A little more than the size of the palm.”

She protested, “Won’t that be too little?” I assured her that it won’t and asked her not to disturb me for while. She went to her room, only to rush back again. Before I could say anything she said, “Mom, I won’t disturb you, but please tell me should it be the size of my palm or yours?”

That was a good question. I was actually referring to the size of my palm and assumed that my daughter would understand it. My little one taught me three very valuable lessons:

    • To understand the person we deal or communicate with.
    • To be very specific about what we say or write.
    • Not to assume anything in a communication.

These are even more important when dealing with conflict because you are handling a touchy situation and you probably have a couple of individuals who may not be in a mood to think reasonably.

Step 3: Analyze the Issue

When addressing workplace conflict, first analyze the issues from both, your perspective and the perspective of the team member. Ask yourself some questions:

    • What is this problem about?
    • What about the problem is upsetting or annoying?
    • Is it a personality problem or it just lack of maturity or professionalism?
    • Will a one-to-one discussion with the team member solve the problem?

Step 4: Be Prepared

Document all the issues you have with the writer. You will need this information to take an action against the person if there is no improvement. Talk with your boss and with the human resources personnel so that they are aware of what is happening. Also, remember to pay attention to the rest of your team.

    • Is one or more than one person disturbed by the happenings?
    • Do they feel that someone is doing wrong and is getting away with it?
    • Do they feel disturbed that you are protecting the person? If yes, it is your biggest concern. You cannot allow one person in the team to cause such an emotional imbalance. It will destroy the morale of the team.

Talk to the team members and check the problems and issues they have with the concerned person. Document all the issues and concerns.

Step 5: Talk to the Team Member

In some cases, addressing small issues can actually take care of larger problems caused by the people. Problems like issues with quality, lack of concentration, and reduced productivity can be discussed and sorted out.

The discussion and the action taken to fix these problems will take care of bigger issues like quality problems and delay in completing the project. Problems like misuse of resources, situations, benefits, and freedom show lack of professionalism or maturity. These issues can usually be sorted to an extent.

You may have to be a little strict while talking to the team member about keeping a check on the time and effort they spend in non-productive activities like personal mailing, talking on the telephone for hours, surfing, online chatting, long tea and lunch breaks, etc. Once these come under control, the rest of the things will fall into place, productivity will increase, work will be completed on time, there will be time for peer-edits, and hence quality will increase.

If the problem is bigger than these work-related behaviors (e.g., manipulation and backstabbing), and if you have a gut feeling that this person is going to make a bigger issue of the episode, do not do the talking alone. In such a case, have your department head or someone from HR attend it with you. Make the person understand the fact that you are trying to give a fair chance and time for improvement.

If the behavior of the person does not improve in the given time, let go the person. One individual cannot and should not be able to disrupt a whole team/department.