Hi, I’m Nicola from The People Mentor, and in today’s podcast, I want to talk about how to deal with an aggressive team member.
In your time as a manager, I’m sure you would have come across aggressive or difficult employees. Maybe you managed someone who would constantly criticize and intimidate others. Maybe the person you are thinking of right now is someone who would always point the finger of blame at others if something went wrong, and somehow seemed to act as if they were beyond reproach.
Working with difficult personalities can be part of the territory when you’re a manager, but the problem is, if these people aren’t managed properly, their behaviour can really negatively affect the team and the business.
Negativity, intimidation, aggression, and any similar behaviours can affect interpersonal relationships, as well as productivity and morale.
As a leader, it’s your job to stop this from happening, but before you do anything, there are some things you need to understand about aggressive or difficult people.
What prompts aggressive behaviour?
Even though you may think that they are behaving the way they do deliberately, more often than not, their behaviour is a direct response to something that’s going on.
Maybe they are going through a really stressful time at home.
Maybe they are feeling overburdened by work.
They could be feeling like their role is challenging them too much, or not enough.
They could be experiencing interpersonal difficulties with another member or members of the team.
Often, it’s not black and white, so as a leader, the important thing to understand is that when people have an issue, they’ll express it in different ways. It’s your job to get to the bottom of it and work out how to find a way forward that suits everyone and that will preserve the health of the team and the business.
So how should you deal with an aggressive or difficult team member?
Well, the first thing is to make sure that the issue is dealt with rather than being swept under the carpet. Dealing with conflict is never a manager’s favourite thing to do, no matter how experienced you are, but it’s preferable to allowing conflict to harm the team or the business.
Start by addressing the issue. Meet with the employee and explain to them clearly what you have observed. Make sure that you present them with facts and be careful not to say anything that amounts to, or that could be interpreted as a personal attack.
Emotions can run high in these situations, so make sure you stay calm yourself, as the employee may become defensive or emotional. If you react the same way, it will be like putting fuel on a bonfire. The situation might escalate and there won’t be a helpful or constructive outcome for anyone.
Say something like “ I have a problem when you (insert the undesirable behaviour), because it causes (insert the problem it causes the team or the business), and it makes me feel…” (say how the behaviour makes you feel).
Now in an ideal world, the employee would accept what you’re saying, then you’d agree on a way forward and both get on with your day. But of course, there are no guarantees that this is what will happen.
You can’t change a person, and you can’t force them to behave or act in a particular way, all you can do is try to work out what might improve things practically for the team and the business.
Ask the team member if they will work with you to find a solution to the issue. Agree on steps that can be taken on both sides, and think about how you will know that the actions have worked.
Make sure that they understand what the consequences of their failing to modify their behaviour will be and agree on how and when the steps you’ve agreed on will be reviewed.
These are the practical steps you can take to deal with an aggressive or difficult person, but you don’t need to just do something once undesirable behaviour has become apparent.
There are things you can do to set a tone for cooperation and harmony in the workplace before it even gets to the stage where you’re having to speak to people about their behaviour.
First, you can make a point of being an authentic, approachable, and sincere leader so people feel able to come to you about things, and nobody feels like they have to be constantly looking over their shoulder.
Second, make sure that you don’t overpromise and underdeliver. If you say you’re going to do something, do it. This builds trust and helps you avoid a situation where people become disengaged or mistrusting of you as a ‘flaky’ boss.
Next, be sure to make clear and open communication a priority. If team members feel they can come to you whenever there’s a problem, you’ll be able to see off any issues before they become more serious.
Showing compassion is also important. When people are difficult or aggressive sometimes it genuinely does mean that they are struggling with something, and if this is the case, they need a human being to talk to, not a boss.
And finally, check in with your team often and ask how things are going. This doesn’t mean constantly looking over their shoulder, it means that they know that you are there to offer guidance and support if they should need it.
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Get in touch for a chat about exactly what’s possible.
I hope you enjoyed this podcast, and I’ll see you next time.
This is The People Mentor signing off.
Read more on difficult conversations