A reader asks:
I have a direct report who argues every change or new task that is assigned, including changes the entire team is being asked to comply with. She frequently argues that she feels some other team should be responsible for the task, or complains no other team is having to do it and says that she doesn't understand why we do.
She will do this in meetings in front of others, and I have had other team members approach me about how uncomfortable it is to have to listen to her argue every little thing. What advice do you have on how I can curb the interruptions from these arguments and how I should approach her one-on-one about this issue?
Yes, this can be exhausting--for you and for the other people who have to keep listening to it.
You don't want to discourage your employee from giving input when it's valuable, but it's also not practical to debate every small decision.
The way to address it is to name the issue, explain why it's a problem, tell her what you want her to do differently, and then hold her to that.
For example: "I don't know if you realize, but you push back on assignments and decisions nearly every time there's a change or a new assignment. Pushing back this frequently takes up a lot of time and is becoming disruptive to our team. Going forward, if you have questions about how to do an assignment or how something will impact the rest of your work, please let me know. But I need you to stop pushing for another team to be responsible for our work, or debating why we have do something that another team doesn't. I need you to stay focused on the work at hand."
Then the next time it happens at a meeting, shut it down immediately. If she truly has a concern about how something will impact her own work, you can say, "Let's talk about that in our next one-on-one so that we don't get sidetracked here." But if it's really just complaining, you can say, "I understand you disagree with this choice but this is the decision, so let's talk about how to implement it."
(An important note on that: It's reasonable to say this to a constant complainer, but you wouldn't want to make it your go-to line more generally. That would be too dismissive of people and would risk squelching useful input.)
Then, if it still keeps happening (meaning more than one slip-up after your talk with her), sit down with her again and have the, "We talked about X / it's still happening / what's going on?" conversation that you'd have if your feedback on anything else was ignored. And if it continues after that, then you have a pretty serious performance problem on your hands--since at that point she'd be ignoring direct, repeated feedback--and you'd handle it the way you would any other.
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