No matter how much a group is working hard and heading in the same direction, it seems there’s always someone fighting against the current. What do you do about whoever is standing in the way?
When I am working on a project with a team, it seems that there is always one or two people that distract the group from their goal. It could be that they actively speak out against the plan, or they could silently disrupt progress behind the scenes.
Having a saboteur can be downright maddening. Instead of making progress in meetings, you’re putting out fires. Instead of reviewing what work team members are accomplishing, you’re breaking up disagreements and getting people back on track.
Of course, there are advantages to having a different opinion once in a while. Famously, some military organizations require a devil’s advocate in order to make the best decision.
And, sometimes people who cause the most problems are the ones who obsessively follow the rules. Instead of recognizing the importance of guidelines as a form of consensus, they use the official policy as a weapon to get their way.
But what about when there are people causing problems and they don’t have a good reason to push back? Here are some strategies that will help you overcome the rabble-rouser.
1. Focus on the majority – The simple method is to just ignore the person that is disrupting the group. If you are able to move forward with the majority of the group, then you are able to gain momentum.
2. Address the issue with the person separate from the group – Confronting the rebel in front of the group will only justify their message. So pull them to the side and try to resolve the issue discreetly.
3. Create wins to show the group the progress – People want to be on the winning side. Get some small wins and you will begin to over come any opposition.
Interacting with those who cause issues is part of the reality of our lives. Robby Slaughter points out that much of the reason we have problems starts with language. In a blog post here on The Methodology Blog about working with challenging team members, he writes:
We’ve all dealt with frustrating people in the workplace. Who are the difficult employees, and what is the best way to handle them?
To address this challenge, we’ve got to start with the words we’re using. The most important step in handling difficult employees is to stop using the word “handle.”
That’s a term that chemical engineers use for hazardous material, not what people in an organization should use to describe their interactions with other human beings. Likewise, we should avoid phrases like “deal with” and “put up with.”
Thinking of everyone else as a person first will help dramatically in finding ways to engage and connect productively—even if their behavior is upsetting to you.
There is always someone that will stand in your way on your path to success. Find a way around and don’t lose too much time thinking about it.
But at the same time, don’t be afraid to listen to a person who has a different point of view. If they are just being difficult that’s not the same as having a perspective worth hearing.
Remember: we all come to organizations with a unique personality, a unique set of experiences, and specific knowledge and skills. The outlier might be part of the problem.
But sometimes the outlier has an idea worth hearing. Be ready to move on, but only after you’ve listened first.