How to Deal with “Difficult & Disruptive Team Members” ? | by: Linda Finkle | Incedo Group

One of the biggest challenges with any team is difficult and disruptive team members… It’s not simply that they are on the team, it’s that we don’t know how to effectively deal with them. Too often our solution is to ignore the problem and hope it gets better. Or we say something to them in a way that creates another problem, they become angry or upset; and doesn’t solve the problem we set out to correct in the first place.

Do you have to suffer in silence or is there any way to effectively deal with these difficult and disruptive team members? Are these people simply thorns in your side, and in the side of the rest of the team or do they have something to offer ??

What Does Disruptive or Difficult Mean ?

Depending on the makeup of the team difficult or disruptive can be different. For example: Most people would agree that someone who constantly is negative and tells everyone why the idea won’t work is difficult. And most would concur that a team member who constantly interrupts others while they are speaking is disruptive. Yet in some situations team members that never voice their opinion are viewed as difficult as they aren’t contributing and on teams they would be seen as easy going. For today’s article though I want to use some common language so when I get to the ‘how’ part it will be more valuable.

Disruptive means to cause a disturbance or break (as in communication or actions). We often refer to people who are disruptive as troublemakers, unruly and distracting. Difficult means hard to deal with or satisfy. We use words to describe these people such as challenging, demanding, problematic, unbending or defiant. In both cases they are seen as individuals who cause problems, hinder progress or obstruct advancement towards a goal.

Are These People Able to Change ?

Maybe they can and maybe they can’t but that isn’t the right question to ask. The truth is we can’t change another human being. As parents we might have some influence on our children but after a certain age even our influence on them wanes. We can however change ourselves and when we do our interactions with other people will be different. Then as a result we may see some changes in others.

Instead of focusing on asking if they can change perhaps we should consider TWO different questions :

  1. What contribution can these people make ?
  2. In what ways can I work with them more effectively ?

What Contributions Can They Make ?

I know it’s tough to imagine what contributions these difficult and disruptive team members can make but I promise you they do. Consider the following :

  • Different point of view –  Having someone with a different viewpoint opens the team up to consider other options they may not have considered.
  • Points out possible challenges – It’s easy to move forward without considering the challenges or potential risks. Having someone who brings these to the conversation can save the team problems later on.
  • Stirs the Pot – Complacency can be the death of a team. When someone is stirring the pot it helps gets others engaged.
  • Quality standards – The demanding team member can actually bring forth a higher standard of quality and end result.

Every team member can make a contribution if we let them. It may be that we have to first reassess how we see them before we can appreciate their contribution.

Managing These Folks: 

Sometimes we have to ask ourselves why they are difficult or disruptive. Maybe they feel like they aren’t heard. Perhaps they don’t know how to get their ideas across so it’s a communication issue. If we take the time to consider why they are acting the way they are we may find a new way of thinking about how to manage them. Here are some other ideas to help you :

  • Set ground rules for the team. Explain what is acceptable in terms of interruptions, sharing ideas, how to communicate etc. This not only helps minimize the problems, it gives you a place to go back to when problems occur. You can always remind them of the ground rules.
  • Give everyone a chance to share. Sometimes it’s just about being heard so allowing everyone to share, and making sure everyone does reduces the need to be disruptive.
  • Use my “wait” idea. I have a sign I created that is a stop sign with the word ‘WAIT’ on it. That stands for ‘why am I talking’. I often take it into meetings and tell people they should consider this before speaking.
  • Discuss the problem off line. If someone continues to be disruptive or difficult you have to take this conversation out of the meeting. Have a one-on-one meeting and tell them what you see and what you want differently from them.
  • Don’t give up. It’s easy to simply talk over them or interrupt them and move on to someone else. Resist that tendency and keep working with them. Don’t assume one or two or even three conversations will resolve the problem. There is a point where you may have to make a change but don’t give up too easily.

Managing difficult or disruptive team members starts with how you see them…Have you already decided they aren’t worth your time or they can’t change so why bother? Are you seeing them as adding no value and only as problematic and an obstacle ? If so you are part of the problem not the solution. Start by shifting your own beliefs and see what happens as a result…

(Linda Finkle, a Certified  Coach, helps get rid of the elephant lurking in the corner of your business to clear the way so you and your staff can tackle real business challenges. She is also a specialist at improving your ROI at any cost, creating clear communication and helping you and your employees enjoy your job. For information, go to