Dealing with Aggressive team members

The protagonist in the case study (published in last two blogs) had two challenges. One, dealing with the caustic relationship with his immediate manager; second, managing his senior most team member. In the earlier article, we discussed some ways of managing self during those unpleasant interactions with the boss.


Let us now focus on Mukul, the senior most team member in John’s team. Mukul has been with the organization even before John joined. Owing to his familiarity with all key members of the organization, Mukul feels that he is a cut above the rest. It shows in his body language and the way he talks to his other colleagues in the team.

Often times, Mukul thinks that he knows best what is good for the organization. His “I-know-it-all” attitude is dominant that sometimes he refuses to do what John wants him to do; he says, “It does not work here”. John finds it hard to convince him. Even if he pushes him to do, Mukul does not apply himself. There were occasions when Mukul said, “Oh! I forgot about it”. For John the problem comes from Shwetha, his immediate manager who keeps demanding results. You can understand how john gets sandwiched between tough boss and aggressive team member.

Getting rid of Mukul is one of the immediate option that crosses our mind. Should that be an immediate option that crosses our mind? Should that be an imminent action or should it be a last option? What If John gives a try to manage such aggressive people? I continued my dialogue with John, this time focusing on Mukul.

Me: Which aspect of Mukul is difficult to manage for you? Why is it difficult?

John: Primarily, I do not like his body language and tone. It always comes across as dominating. I find it difficult to communicate with such unreasonably aggressive people; they don’t listen. They want to have their way of everything. They want to demonstrate insubordination.

Me: Does it mean that you like people who are mild and who always listen to you?

John: Not at all; I like people who are aggressive yet understand logic and reason.

Me: Is there any why that you can make him listen to your logic and reason?

John: I guess I need to work with him at an individual level; I need to make him feel important first and then communicate with him.

Me: Is there any positive aspect of Mukul’s aggression?

John: Interesting question. If I look at it that way, he also carries a lot of ego; when people say, “Mukul, you can do it!” he works hard to complete.

Me: That means he wants prominence and ego stroking. Is it something that you can offer him?

John: I need to lower myself and boost up his self-image. Then it will be possible to channel his ego in a positive way.

Me: Will such approach also help you in handling any negative aspects in him?

John: Once he starts listening, everything else will fall in line. Then I can communicate to him how some of his behaviours are affecting others and how he can be a much better colleague.

Me: If you wish to do that, what changes do you think you need to bring in you?

John: You are making me think; let me list down what I think are the steps for me to handle the aggressive guy.

1. I firstly need to control my emotions and do not try to match my aggression with his.

2. Understand that every aggressive person is seeking something; mostly, prominence, control, freedom etc. Offer initially what that person wants, so that he will start listening to you better.

3. In this process, I need to believe in my self-worth and need not compete with my aggressive team member.

4. Build rapport  at one-to-one level

5. Communicate gently the areas of improvement without puncturing the ego of the other person.

This essentially means that John needs to demonstrate tremendous patience and will to manage aggressive team member. However, with all these efforts, what if there is a change for the better? Is it not a positive experience to John as a manager?

Tough managers should not look for easy options. Instead, they have to look for lasting solutions.

Excerpts from the article – How to deal with Aggressive Team Members
By: Dr.Raj, 
Published in HR Mirror, Hans India.
Follow Dr.Raj on Twitter @drraj29 

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