You may think you have wandered into the seventh circle of hell, but no, it’s just another team meeting with the evil ones – those colleagues who seem to take pleasure in seething, shouting, or turning apathy into an art form. And they have one thing in common: none of them think they are being difficult.
There are many types of behaviour that can negatively affect a team, and everyone will recognise Mr Angry, Mrs Resentful, Mr Apathetic, Mr Passive and Miss Useless. Of course, these are not gender-based behaviours. But how do you tackle these potentially destructive people?
First, take Mr Angry. Rob Donnelly, HR specialist at Business Link Surrey, knows the type. “With a strong feeling that they are ‘right’, linked with an inability to back down, angry people can affect those around them by creating resentment and frustration,” he says.
And, no-one likes to tackle someone who might bite their head off.
Roy Lilley, author of Dealing with Difficult People, believes that a team can easily fall into a ‘don’t upset him/her’ mode of dysfunctional team behaviour.
Donnelly suggests that angry people might be helped by listening to their complaints, and by offering assurance of your support. “Sticking to the facts helps,” he says. “But all of this calls for enormous energy on your behalf, to listen and to maintain a positive stance. Look for quick, practical ways forward to use some of their energy.”
Mrs Resentful is less easy to deal with. Her behaviour is less showy than Mr Angry, but just as deadly. Donnelly believes that resentful people feel they have much to offer that others don’t recognise.
“Colleagues may tire of the ‘I know better’ comments and sense of superior detachment that they can generate,” he says.
The answer lies in sharing ideas with them in advance of action. “If you offer scope for their input and ownership, they may feel better supported and valued, without being isolated or exposed,” Donnelly adds.
The effects of Mr Apathetic are just as dangerous. Lilley believes apathy is a killer in the workplace. “Apathy is corrosive and sets a mentality that spreads like a virus. Quite often, it is because the person’s work is boring and they think they are capable of more,” he says.
Alternatively, they may feel that whatever they do won’t make a difference. Other team members may doubt Mr Apathetic’s contribution, and exclude him. Donnelly says: “Mr Apathetic will be overlooked or ignored rather than feared or hated, but this does little for morale. His career can stagnate and he risks becoming the long-standing low achiever.”
If you recognise this behaviour, Lilley suggests encouraging progress by giving small, achievable assignments. “You can’t necessarily take the boring work away, but you can explain how vital it is to the organisation,” he says.
Donnelly suggests encouraging progress on a personal as well as professional level. “Overcoming apathy starts from within, so work on personal pride and raise the bar through realistic progress,” he says.
Mr Passive may seem similar to Mr Apathetic, but this is not the case. Lilley asks: “[Are they] passive or shy? Passive or introvert? Passive or timid? Try to figure it out. Not being engaged is not a sin. People do have lives outside work.”
However, if these employees refuse to contribute or appear aloof, it may not be just themselves they are hurting.
Shaun Belding, author and chief executive of US-based Belding Skills Development Corporation, believes that Mr Passive’s opt-out behaviour can have profound consequences for the cohesiveness of a team.
“If you don’t do anything about it, you will be perceived as accepting – even sanctioning – his inaction,” he warns.
Christine Jones, director of People Impact Organisation Development, says: “Try some subtle exploration that may reveal depths of character or interests, through using one of the many tools on offer – the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, or Belbin’s team roles, for instance.”
You may find there are some surprising results. “Once you have identified what is important to them, help them reach their goal,” says Jones. If it is a simple case of shyness in particular situations, all they may need is extra encouragement.
Miss Useless may seem like a lost cause, but Lilley believes that no-one is totally useless – although you should ask yourself how you recruited such a person in the first place. Check your recruitment procedures and line management capability.
‘Useless’ people may not see their value or strengths, even though others might. Donnelly believes that their ambitions may be modest, so they stick to what they like, or feel they can do.
“This can generate frustration for colleagues, who may stop helping them move forward,” says Donnelly. “Try to rotate work to help them find a strength, and give them positive but realistic feedback that has a progressive element that encourages them to do more next time.”
Dealing with the employee from hell, Shaun Belding, Kogan Page, published August 2005, www.beldingskills.com
Dealing with difficult people, Roy Lilley, Kogan Page, ISBN: 0749436913, www.roylilley.co.uk