Is the whole team in meltdown? Grievances and counter grievances lodged?

The finger pointed at one person?

It isn’t unusual that, as a consultant, I get a call for help in such a situation. When I speak to all the team members involved, it seems to be one person that is at the centre of the problems. The common denominator is that everyone is suffering including that person. The situation has often gone on for a long time and everyone is worn down.

Result = a stressed and fractured team who cannot focus effectively on their work.


Personality disorders or traits are not unusual in the workplace. Unpredictable, uncooperative and maybe abusive behaviours can be the product of such illnesses. The ‘difficult’ individual causing all this grief will often not be able to recognise the impact of their behaviours on others. They feel isolated and often blame the rest of the team or the manager.

So what should managers do? ( assuming the difficult  person isn’t the boss). These are situations for careful and skillful management from within the organisation.

Here are some preventative tips:

  • Take complaints about behaviours seriously and follow up quickly
  • Enforce professional standards of behaviour for all, based on a Code of Conduct
  • Provide clear channels to management for complaints – stop gossip in the team
  • Meet with an offender, document clearly and precisely the behaviours that are unacceptable, give time frames for expected changes, specify next steps if no change
  • Follow up regularly, empathise with difficulty, acknowledge improvements
  • Refer to EAP or psychological support services
  • Conduct regular performance management for the whole team
  • Get  training and education relating to managing personality disorder

Dealing with difficult people who are impacted by a personality disorder is very challenging. Consider the words of one manager – “This is the most difficult thing I’ve ever dealt with…”

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