Many work environments are stressful. With pressure to grow sales and revenue, and the ever increasing benchmarks and metrics, leaders and team members are under tremendous stress to perform.

Under these conditions, stumbling blocks can come in all shapes and forms. One of the most common cause of failure for startups and small companies is when key team members (including co-founders) fall out with each other. The clash could be due to differences in opinions, characters, backgrounds and experiences. As a leader, you should nip the problem in its bud. But where do you start and how should you deal with a difficult team member?

Start at the beginning

Find the root cause of the frustration. Is the team member difficult to deal with because of his/her bad attitude, poor work ethics, or lack of right skill sets? Remember that conflicts may be caused by divergence in views.

When your team member responds with a negative statement, be mindful of your emotions. Do not get into an argument in order to establish your perspective. You must be clear minded and respond rationally.

Understand the scope of the problem and its impact

You need to understand the scope of the issue and how it impacts your business and other colleagues.

Is it a one-off problem, or does it have a lasting impact? Observing the difficult team member, and evaluating the consequences of the problem will help you find your solution.

Listen to other team members

Is this team member also giving a headache to other members?

If possible, ask others if they notice the same behaviour. Feedback from your peers will help you understand the problem in a new light. If the team member and you are the only ones butting heads, maybe it’s time to evaluate your own behavior.

Coach the team member

Have a one-to-one meeting where you listen and discuss the issue with your team member. Allow the team member to air his/her grievances and listen to their suggestions for improvements to be made. If you do not agree with their suggestions, say so and guide the team member towards a better solution during the meeting. Employ active listening and, if appropriate, the GROW model to help the team member find their own solutions.

After listening and evaluating the problem, work out a resolution plan together. If possible, document the learning points after the meeting.

Follow up, and give time

Most changes do not come overnight, or may be short-lived. It is important to have a constant conversation with the team member to monitor the progress of the situation.

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