People hope to work in an environment where every one is happy, but, sadly, one difficult person can make things uncomfortable for the whole team. On a string team, that person will usually self select and move on, but not all difficult people realize they are the one causing the difficulty. When that person has a critical role, removal may not be an option. You don't have to suffer with someone who whines, or bullies or is selfish at the expense of the team. You can take action and be responsible for your own experience.

Here is how I recently managed through with someone difficult, along with more insights from my Inc. colleagues.

1. Help them get perspective or move on.

This month, I worked on a team where one person was overly wrapped up in her own drama. Whenever she was asked anything she would go into a tirade about how busy she was and how the world was just too hard. Every piece of feedback provided was taken as an attack. I tried to just let things pass, but eventually, her approach was dragging down the team and the quality of work. My choice was to make the point that she was on the team by choice. I expressed to her that the priority decisions she made were not the team's problem. She needed to reevaluate her commitment. In the end, the team and I simply split from her and happily refocused on the objective. No team deserves to be held hostage by someone who is distinctly unhappy.

2. Help them express themselves.

Get the person somewhere private and say, "I feel like something's been bothering you. Is it me?" If it is you, they'll talk about it, and hopefully that will be a start towards moving past the issue. If it isn't you, they'll tell you the real problem if only to ensure you know it's not you. Either way, you'll have a conversation--and sometimes all a person needs to get over what's bothering them is to feel like someone cares enough to listen. -Owner's Manual

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3. Be direct.

When I think a customer or client is unhappy, I go on full alert. Having my own business, I depend on happy customers, so I do everything I possibly can to ensure that if someone isn't happy, the issue gets addressed right away. Avoiding the problem is not a solution--you must address it head on, and fast. I don't like to rely on email messages or other impersonal modes of communication in these situations, instead I get on the phone immediately to find out what's wrong, and then together develop a strategy to get my client back to his or her happy place. Fortunately, my clients are generally happy people, and they're happy with my work. But in those rare circumstances when they're not, the direct approach works best. --The Management Guy

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4. Let Crabby Cathy be just that.

Sadly, some people thrive on being miserable. My tendency used to be to try to "fix" it for them. To help them see a new perspective and find some joy in life! I've come to my senses now. Your typical Crabby Cathy (or Carl) really is happy being unhappy. In fact, she doesn't know who she would be without her misery because that's all she's ever known. When someone tries to take that identity away from them it can feel very threatening. Be yourself around the Crabby Cathy's in your world. When you refrain from judgment you'll find that their behavior has less power over how you feel. Allow them to express their feelings and just listen; no fixing is necessary here! --The Successful Soloist

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5. Show your empathy.

I work with high-powered CEOs that believe they can keep their personal lives separate from their work, but the truth is they can't. If they are going through a personal matter--divorce, health issues, conflicts with their children, depression--these issues manifest themselves in the way they lead their organization. If I provide them with a safe place to discuss their concerns, they make great progress towards reducing the impact these outside factors have on how they lead their company. The same is true for you and your team. When one of your team members is in a bad place, they may simply need another person to acknowledge, listen and let them know it's okay to have a bad day. The idea that our personal life and our work life is not interconnected is an old and flawed concept. --Lean Forward

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Published on: Nov 21, 2014
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