Dealing with a Troublesome Coworker
Most organizations have at least one individual who might be considered troublesome. They may be tolerated because the group feels that they carry their load. They may not be tactful and could often be abrasive, leaving you with a very tricky situation. How you handle these individuals, who some might classify as characters may have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the group. Some might consider them loners in that they often fail to greet coworkers and fail to say hello in the morning. They might fail to have eye contact or make unusual statements at inappropriate moments. Others often say “well that’s the way he is.” As a manager you must tread lightly with these personalities; but to maintain communications and productivity there are some suggested actions and things to avoid.
Handling the Coworker
As a leader, you must maintain a professional approach. If you need to be critical, be critical of the actions not the person. Interfere where you see conditions which interfere with effective communication and coordination. Don’t add to the situation emotionally. Maintain a cool demeanor. Intervene when the behavior interferes with the individual performing their job or interferes with others performance. Constantly stress the importance of teamwork and constructive positive communication.
Try to understand whether the behavior is correctable. Does behavior stem from a lack of empathy and is it so deeply rooted in the individual’s personality that is beyond your ability to modify? Is the behavior occasional or continuous? Your time and efforts should be focused on modification not remaking an individual’s personality. You are a manager first, not a psychiatrist or sociologist.
To be realist there may come a point where termination is the only alternative. Always document any situation which occurs and discuss the difficulties with the individual involved. I once was told that when it comes to termination, the decision is made by the group or team. The manager is only the one who communicates the decision.
Don’t try to be everyone’s friend or expect everyone in the group to be the best of friends. Expect individuals to act and communicate as adults not children. Avoid being part of childish conversation, such as “he said or she said.” If they bring you into a childish conversation, walk away or kick them out of your office.
Avoid trying to diagnose the mental health of the individual involved. Again, your role is manager, not therapist or medical professional. Don’t set yourself up for the liability associated with a slanderous charge. Strictly focus on the individual’s performance, which is your area of responsibility.
Be consistent with your organization’s procedures, precedence, and the law. If you suspect a medical situation consult with your Human Resource Department or an outside party well versed in the particular situation.
Always consider that working with these difficult personalities may have possible rewards. Having worked in the engineering field, I can report they some of the most difficult people to work with were the most productive. They were egotistical, self-centered, and consumed by their profession. Once you as manager recognized those personality traits, you learned to shape their activities and develop a mutually productive relationship. Even if they didn’t play well with others they were a vital part of the team.