Let’s start this conversation with a story.

I have an adorable six-year-old niece. Like any young child, she can be difficult at times. When she becomes too difficult for me to handle, I have the luxury of handing her back to her mother, rather than deal with her behavior. While this is a great solution for an uncle, it’s a terrible solution for a manager dealing with a tough employee.

At some point in your career, you will encounter a teammate that’s particularly difficult to work with. They will make everyone’s professional life more stressful. Everyone will know who this person is and it will slowly drain your team’s enthusiasm.

A difficult teammate isn’t someone you just have to tolerate. There are real consequences to the entire team or company should you let this difficult teammate’s behavior persist. Nip this problem in the bud and better manage the situation to improve your company’s productivity.

The solution? Use some jedi-mind tricks to convert a negative situation into something positive. Find your employee’s inner source of value. Here’s how.

 

Understand What Causes Difficulties (and Empathize)

Difficult teammates come in all forms. There is no one defining trait that makes someone difficult. However, there are some traits that are universally viewed as negative behavior. It’s these traits that make some people much more difficult to work with on a daily basis than others.

If you have a difficult teammate in mind, ask yourself if they have some of these common characteristics on an ongoing basis? You really want to be sure before you address the situation.

Abrasive & Mean Spirited Behavior
Sometimes a difficult teammate is just mean. For some reason, they’re very abrasive when you try to collaborate with them. This can cause for a very unpleasant work environment. But if a teammate crosses the line and displays abusive behavior like physical threats, intimidation tactics, verbal abuse, it’s time to step in.

Refusal to Communicate
While some people are naturally poor communicators, a difficult teammate will refuse to communicate. It’s this reluctance to participant in productive conversations that make someone exhausting to work with.

Selfish
A selfish teammate will do the least amount of work possible, leaving others to pick up the slack. Sometimes people go so far as taking credit for other’s work. Either way, a selfish teammate only has their interests in mind and not what’s ultimately best for the company or clients.

 

Study the Negative Effects, but Don’t Dwell on Them 

The negative effects of an unpleasant teammate go beyond an occasional headache. There can be consequences that have a lasting effect on individuals as well as the company. That’s why it’s so important to identify difficult teammates and come up with an action plan quickly.

Just one difficult person in the office can create stress on everyone else and wreak havoc on the entire team. William Felps and Terence Mitchell of the University of Washington School of Business analyzed how teams consisting of 5-15 employees reacted to just one negative person.

They found that these teams had more conflict, poor communication, and overall performance was less than satisfactory. Teammates of the difficult employee coped with denial, withdrawal, anxiety, and fear. Since negative behavior outweighs positive behavior, your entire team’s morale and productivity can go down because of one person.

 

Stay Strong, and Take Action

Working with a difficult teammate is like having a rock in your shoe, it’s a nagging problem that won’t go away unless you do something about it. If you’re tired of working with a difficult teammate at the office, here’s 5 steps to handle the situation.

Maintain Your Composure
Keep a cool head when you’re dealing with a difficult teammate. Maintaining composure will allow you to use better judgement and keep the conversation productive. If emotions flare and an argument breaks out, you’re just escalating the problem.

Listen
You never know what’s going on with someone. Maybe there is an external reason for their behavior? Start by listening to your difficult teammate and assess the situation.

Communicate Clearly
Addressing a difficult teammate with passive-aggressive behavior might help you avoid a short-term conflict, but in the long-term it can lead to even more destructive behavior. Be direct when you’re speaking to someone about their poor workplace behavior.

Focus on Solutions
Angrily confronting someone might feel good for a moment, but it’s not a solution. Be proactive and work on finding ways to solve the problems that are persisting and hurting your team. Identify the problems, convey why they’re problems, and see what can be done. In some cases, both parties will have to make concessions and compromise.

Articulate Consequences
When discussing solutions, it’s easy for a difficult teammate to say they’re going to change. But change isn’t easy and might not happen overnight. Make sure you outline what will happen if this harmful behavior persists. Make it know there will be consequences and that this behavior will not be tolerated.

Don’t let your team suffer the consequences of a difficult teammate. Just one toxic teammate can cause lasting harm to everyone. Make sure you follow these five steps when it’s time for you to address a difficult teammate. It’s imperative that you don’t let this behavior linger and destroy productivity and morale.

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Jesse Bouman

Jesse Bouman is the founder of Prepare.io. He is a stubborn entrepreneur, budding philanthropist, marketing nerd, and technology geek. When he's not blogging or tweeting, Jesse can be found in a coffee shop, exploring LA’s hidden treasures, or playing a game of dodgeball.
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