A difficult team member is always a challenge: whether they dominate any discussion or they have a tantrum when they don’t get their own way, it can waste time or demotivate the rest of the team. It is also quite a surprise when seemingly mature, intelligent individuals behave in this way. Of course we don’t know what is going on in their lives, so I am certainly not going to judge them. However it is something that should be discussed within the communication arena.
The occasion was a one day conference that I was lucky enough to be invited to. We were treated to a rosta of outstanding international speakers who were experts in their field. We were privileged to be there and to hear their words of wisdom. In the morning, one individual dominated the Q and A session by giving very negative feedback. Instead of giving her opinion and letting it rest, she continued. Given her opinion was publicly criticising the speaker and the multi-national organisation that was funding the conference, it was embarrassing. She didn’t gauge she had overstepped the mark or that the discussion should move on. Eventually the situation was managed, but not before she was heckling the speaker.
In the afternoon we had a dynamic workshop with a global leader in a particular business thought process. It was brilliant. Part of the workshop was to break into smaller groups and discuss one topic. Half way through, my group was joined by the noisy woman from the morning. She had already left one group “because they aren’t doing what they are meant to, and I’m not wasting my time with them”. However, our focused inclusive group discussion was immediately disrupted by her. From the word go, the group discussion was disrupted and our focus was no longer there. We were targeted with criticism for everything we said. Initially we ignored this, but after three interruptions we all started to question this. Eventually, after one too many disruptions we all simultaneously told her to stop this.
The woman concerned then started non-verbal disruptions with her tapping her pen on the table; kicking the table and groaning. When the speaker came to check how we were getting on, the woman said to her “This is the second group I’ve joined and they’re just wasting my time”. The speaker was very apologetic to her – and mortified.
The end of the session was a feedback and share session and immediately this individual took it upon herself to complain about the behaviour of both groups, describing us, i.e. women as “Worse than Alpha Males”. Again, she was unable to edit her contribution or to know when to stop speaking. Understandably this caused a lot of offence (and eye rolling around the room). Eventually the situation was resolved when the recipient of our group focus (we were providing ideas for a business) stated that she didn’t believe the feedback from this woman was a reflection of the discussion and that she was very grateful for the support and ideas she’d received from the group.
Of course, putting people into teams for a quick activity where we don’t know each other’s skill base is a challenge, but until the woman had joined us, we had made quick decisions to get the task completed within time. Not every situation has the luxury of time to introduce yourself before the work has to start, although it is preferable!
But the behaviour of the person concerned had a negative impact on the day, and in particular the afternoon workshop. Did we deal with this well? It was difficult because we didn’t know each other, however, everyone in the group immediately felt this woman was being unreasonable and wasting time. Of course there are going to be different characters in a group, and there is no doubt this person felt she was far superior to everyone else (why was she there?) However, the fact that we all reacted to the negative behaviour and eventually it was managed, was the right thing to do. It is important to speak up when behaviour or something that is said, is unacceptable. It is important to keep level headed, and not make anything personal.
As to the end of the day, the only topic of discussion was the behaviour of the woman. It is a great shame because the conference was outstanding and learnt an awful lot, including managing a fully grown woman behaving like a toddler.