The One With The Annoying Teammate
I was asked an interesting question by a student at one of our programs, “How can I work well with someone who really annoys me?” I thought that this is interesting for a couple of reasons:
1. When you do a lot of work with teams, you come to find that many groups have this intense desire for everyone in the group to be friends and to get along. This isn’t realistic or, more importantly, necessary for our teams to be effective or high performing. In asking this question, the student recognized that it was possible for her to not get along with someone and still find a way to work well with them.
2. When we don’t particularly like someone, we have a habit of fixating on the qualities about that person that bother us instead of reflecting on ourselves and why we are actually bothered. We make the problem all about “them”, when in reality, it’s usually more about us. Instead of adopting a “be like me” mindset, this student assumed responsibility for the quality of this particular working relationship and wanted to make it better.
3. It can be really hard to admit that we have a problem in our teams. But if we don’t acknowledge tensions or misunderstandings in our group then we bury them underground and they’ll continue to undermine our success. By asking questions like this, we are able to admit that there is conflict and begin to resolve it.
Now, if someone could stumble on the answer to this question they would be millionaires – scratch that – billionaires. This isn’t an easy question to answer because every working relationship is made up of incredibly unique individuals with their own needs and offers. This means every single working relationship will have their own unique problems, which require their own unique solutions. That being said, I believe that there are some best practices that will actually help us to identify those problems and develop reasonable solutions so that we can greatly improve our group dynamics:
- Identify assumptions and reactions – when you start to experience those nagging feelings of annoyance or frustration with a team member, take some time to identify the beliefs or assumptions you have about that person that are contributing to those feelings. Then think about your actual reactions to these triggers, how do you behave and interact with this person because of your assumptions and beliefs? How might that negatively affect them or the team?
- Get to the root of the problem – there are five different causes of conflict:
- Roles: A role conflict centers around role clarity, division of responsibility and power dynamics.
- Goals: A goal conflict is about WHAT to accomplish.
- Methods: A methods conflict is about HOW to accomplish our tasks or goals.
- Facts: A facts conflict is about understanding and interpretation of information, data, and specifics.
- Values: A values conflict is a disagreement about what is most important to us, it is usually the hardest to resolve because values are intensely personal.
Take the time to reflect on which of these causes of conflict is at play in your working relationship with this person. This is important because different kinds of conflict require different strategies for resolution. For example, a goal conflict may simply require clarification of individual and group goals, while a methods conflict may actually stem from personality differences that we can’t change.
- Remember our feelings and behaviors are distinctly different – while your feelings about this person may never change, you can change the way you behave with them. And I don’t mean “fake it ‘till you make it”. I do mean that after identifying our reactions, assumptions, and the cause of our conflict, we have much more awareness of ourselves and the situation so we can make conscious and mindful decisions of how we will interact moving forward.
- Have courageous conversations – one of those interactions might be a feedback conversation. It’s very important that we choose our feedback carefully, we cannot give people feedback on things they cannot change. For example, we can’t give someone feedback on their personal values, but we can give them feedback on fulfilling role responsibilities. Remember in these conversations that the purpose of feedback is to correct an action while also preserving or improving a relationship.
- Ask the right questions – Make sure that you aren’t doing all the talking in these conversations. Ask thoughtful questions that are going to help you gain more insight about how you can work together more effectively. Remember these working relationships are just as much about you, you should also be ready and willing to put in work to improve your dynamic.
Our working relationships have different dynamics than the relationships that we keep with friends and family. They are influenced by so many complexities like structure, status, motive, and power. And unfortunately, more often than not, the quality of these nuanced relationships is put second to the quality of our product or service. It’s important to remember that the relationships that we foster and cultivate in our organizations are just as vitally important to our success as our bottom line. When we can work better together, we are able to do better work together.
Have everyone on your team create a “How to Work Well with Me” manual. These manuals act as a guide for teammates to not only reflect on their personal work style but also to gather helpful insights from people who have, in fact, worked with them. If you choose to lead this exercise with your team, remind everyone that this is meant to help your team work better together. This should start conversations that help everyone adapt and grow together to be a more effective team.
This manual should consist of a few key parts:
- Self Analysis: each person should write a personal account of how to effectively work with them on a team. It may help to provide some structure or prompts for team members to follow so that they have some guidance. Consider questions like these:
- If you want to motivate me…
- When I am stressed…
- If you want to give me feedback, please communicate it to me in this way…
- Don’t surprise me with…
- I am working on improving…
- 360 Analysis: this exercise works best when everyone on the team can also speak to their experiences working with each of their team members. Teammates should anonymously answer helpful prompts like these:
- What are their strengths…
- What are their blindspots or areas for growth…
- Describe their communication style…
- What are some things that people might initially misunderstand about them…
- What is the best way to help this person…
Allow time for teammates to share the key parts of their manuals with each other and then make them available for people to access, reference, or contribute to as needed.
*Meet the Author*
Caelan Cooney is the Program Coordinator for Leadership Inspirations and spends most of her time helping to create meaningful programming and content. She got her start in leadership as a high school DECA student, and went on to graduate from Chapman University with degrees in Business Management and Integrated Education. As a regular contributor to From the Balcony, her favorite topics to explore are personality theory, group development, and conflict management. In her free time, she enjoys hiking, rock climbing, and listening to podcasts.