Dealing With A Pushy Team Member

August 30, 2016

by Beverly Flaxington

Beverly Flaxington is a practice management consultant. She answers questions from advisors facing human resource issues. To submit yours, email us here.

Advisor Perspectives welcomes guest contributions. The views presented here do not necessarily represent those of Advisor Perspectives.

Dear Bev,

I have a nice office with polite people except for one staff member, who is a big producer and a nasty person. He will deliberately cut people off in meetings, shake his head and sigh – I assume at how stupid they are – and he looks away in disgust when someone is talking. Each and every time I try and approach him, he threatens me. He will say, “If you don’t want me here anymore, I’m fine going elsewhere.” I don’t think there is value to addressing him, but some people no longer want to go to meetings if he is there. Is it possible to tell him how offensive he is without sending him off to another firm?

B.S.

Pushy Team Member
Image source: thephotographymuse – Flickr
Pushy Team Member

Dear B.S.,

The answer to your question is “maybe yes, maybe no.” Sorry to be vague on the answer, but there are a number of dynamics at work here, and you do need to be cautious in your approach. When someone is being overly difficult and exhibiting the types of behaviors you write about here, you want to consider a number of things:

  1. Is this a style issue for this individual? Some people are high on the assertive, aggressive, results-oriented scale of behavior. Their tendency is toward anger, and if they are thwarted in their approach or otherwise frustrated, they will lash out. I’ve seen a number of firms where you can have a culture of “nice” with one aggressive individual who, in light of the culture, comes across as belligerent. Consider doing a teambuilding session if this is the case.
  2. There could be organizational issues preventing this person from having a “voice,” so he forces his voice on everyone. Make sure you are letting him share his ideas and give input. If a certain person has something to say and you shut them down somehow, they will keep pushing. He may not believe he has a way to objectively say his piece, so he acts out in less productive ways.
  3. Be balanced in your feedback. While many people will get defensive if anything negative is said, most people will listen to constructive criticism if it is balanced with positives. Can you find things he is doing right and then frame the requested changes in a more positive light? Can you compliment him (genuinely) and then ask if he sees any areas for improvement? If you can get him to admit he needs to change, it becomes his idea not yours!
  4. Consider that he may have something going on outside of work creating the angst for him. You might gently suggest that he appears stressed or troubled about something. Seek to understand what’s driving the behavior.

The most important thing when dealing with this type of behavior is not to hide from it or worry about upsetting him. Most of the time the behavior is an indicator that something else is going on. Focus on learning more about what’s happening. I’ve often seen people make wholesale shifts when they are approached the right way.

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