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How to Handle Behavioral Problems in Your Office as a Project Manager

How to Handle Behavioral Problems in Your Office as a Project ManagerHave you ever worked in a perfect work environment? One where people respect each other’s time, where they make an effort to support and encourage other team members any way they can, where there are no tattle-tales?

I know I haven’t, so if you have I really envy you.

Whether it’s small or large, every organization is home to a handful of these kinds of people. And the simple truth is that you have no other option but to learn to deal with them. That is, if you’re planning on a successful, long-term career!

As a project manager, a crucial part of my job is to interact with each member of my team on a daily basis. Although we’re a small group of young and talented people, we do have our differences, which can affect the way the team functions both positively and negatively.

For example, a team member may one day decide not to abide by the rules that are generally accepted in the office, or may not be able to prioritize his to-do list, or may not contribute to the team as much as the team needs him to. As a project manager, your success depends on your ability to deal with the so-called “difficult” people on a daily basis.

If your reaction to dealing with issues is to ignore them, well, my friend, I must tell you that you probably won’t last long. Avoiding a problem, say, a coworker making contemptuous comments about others in public, will definitely not help you resolve it because he’ll never understand that what he’s doing is wrong unless you speak up. Also, you’ll also quickly lose the respect of your other team members who count on you to tackle these basic leadership roles. Problem solving is Leadership 101.

Of course, I’m not advising you to go crazy and scold everyone in the office for the small mistakes they make. If you insist on doing that, there are three major consequences:

  1. The majority of your team will come to see you as a bad manager and hate you for it.
  2. Your office will become unbearable place to work for you and your team.
  3. You probably won’t last long in your current position – or at the company overall.

But never fear, my friend! Following these basic rules will make your life, and the life of everyone else around you, much easier.

Before you confront someone, look to see if all of these facts are true:

  1. The person’s unwanted behavior shows a consistent pattern. Sometimes people get stressed or may be going through a difficult time either at home or at work, so be understanding. Otherwise you’ll be labeled as a hard-hearted or insensitive manager.
  2. The behavior affects the overall flow of the project; for example, delays or misunderstandings
  3. The behavior affects the way you handle projects; for example, you’re wasting time on an unimportant task or it affects your mood, which has a direct effect on your daily performance.

For the sake of argument, let’s say that all three of these conditions are present and you’ve decided it is necessary to confront this person. No matter how necessary it is, keep in mind that there are a few ways to approach this person and not all of them will leave you on good terms with a plan of action.

  1. Don’t take his negativity personally unless he intentionally insults you. Remember, you are the manager and have to remain as constructive as possible. The last thing you want to do is lash out at this person and force everyone else in the office listen to you berate him, which makes everyone uncomfortable and stressed – including yourself.
  2. Don’t beat around the bush. Get to the point, stay professional, and remain on topic. State your facts clearly and express your desire to find a solution that will work for everyone.
  3. Listen, listen, listen! This person may just need to vent, in which case they’ll appreciate your kind and confidential ear. However, you may also uncover a deeper issue within the office that you can take steps to fix.
  4. Never talk down to or belittle the person you’re confronting. Nobody likes to be lectured. Trust me, nothing good or productive will come out of that conversation.
  5. Don’t let the conversation turn to gossip. If the other person tries to put the blame on someone else, STOP HIM! While that person may be wrong, too, this particular conversation concerns only two people and it should stay that way.
  6. Wrap up the conversation with a solid game plan. You can talk about the problem for hours, but what’s the point if you don’t ever talk about the solutions?

And finally, if you want to be a well-liked yet efficient manager, it’s important that you avoid:

  1. Talking about that person with another colleague behind their back after your meeting.
  2. Giving that person an attitude no matter how the meeting ended.
  3. Not following your mutual agreement or watching his progress
  4. Letting someone else cloud your judgment without clear evidence that something wrong is happening.

And who said that managing people was easy?!

Are there any other approaches to constructive criticism you take in your office? Any experiences that went well that you’d like to share or that went poorly that we can learn from? I’d love to hear them! Share your thoughts in the comments.


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