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I have a developer on my team who is otherwise very productive but is getting more and more argumentative and disrespectful to the team and to the project managers. For some reason (possibly culturally as she's from another country) she takes any decisions made by the PM's personally though will back down when her manager asks her to do something.

Like I said, I believe her to be a productive employee but I'm not one to allow unprofessionalism and disrespect to run rampant simply because that person is good at what they do. I'm getting to the point of recommending her dismissal but I would like to exhaust all options to steer her in the right direction first.

  • 2
    You may find the answers to this question helpful: pm.stackexchange.com/questions/1899/… – Mark Phillips May 27 '11 at 14:59
  • I'm not sure I understand what you mean by: "she takes any decisions made by the PM's personally though will back down when her manager asks her to do something." Could you clarify? – Eric Willeke May 28 '11 at 9:28
  • @Eric Willeke If I ask her to refactor some code to make it easier to manage she will start into a tirade with any number of excuses as to why it needs to stay the way she wrote it. If her manager ask her to make a similar change she does so without question. This is why I wondered if it were a cultural issue because clearly she respects only the authority which can fire her. – Pam Daor May 28 '11 at 19:44
  • And you're in a Project Manager role? Do you have a technical background? (looking for other causes than Cultural, although I've seen fear be a factor regardless of culture) – Eric Willeke May 29 '11 at 20:32
  • Yes, I was a software developer for over ten years prior. So I don't feel like I'm making uneducated recommendations or requests. – Pam Daor May 29 '11 at 22:48

11 Answers 11

14

Have you pulled her aside and had a one-on-one with her? The way you explained yourself on here it sounds like you are capable to have a non-threatening but open discussion with her. There is most probably some underlying issue that is frustrating this team member. I encountered this once before and it took a lot of patience to listen and not get annoyed with the person. Once I understood their problem I knew there is/was nothing that could be done to fix it (he was upset with the processes the company used). Once he vented and I sympathized with him he completely changed.....for about one or 2 months and then there was moments where he wanted to act up again but I could then easily pull him aside and ask him not to go there and that seemed to help.

So, in summary, find a non-confrontational way to speak to this person alone and then just listen, you don't need to convince them or try to point out that their reasoning is wrong, just listen and let her vent.

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    +1:@NomadAlien : agree there could be some underlying issue which are bothering her The best solution as you also suggested would having a healthy conversation and patience for listening her. – Jhaliya May 28 '11 at 11:02
  • I have tried this to a certain degree though it usually devolves into her challenging any changes I have ever suggested. I will try your suggestion to let her vent. – Pam Daor May 28 '11 at 19:50
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    Pam, I also come from a programming/developer background and was technical for many years. One thing I had to learn (and still find hard to do today) is to not give technical advice to the developers unless asked for. Now when I see an issue that I know is wrong in their code/design, I rather ask pointed questions and approach the problem from the end-user perspective and let them "discover" the problem by themselves. You need to out think the developers sometime. This really annoys me but after doing this a few times they do start to respect you more! – NomadAlien May 31 '11 at 11:13
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Pam, you say "clearly she respects only the authority which can fire her", but correlation does not equal causation.

From your remarks it looks as if she is capable of doing the work you're asking her to do, and responds well to other people's requests to do it.

You say that she's getting more argumentative and disrespectful. How are the rest of the team responding? My experience of psychology tells me it's less likely to be the threat of firing and more likely to be personal.

It could be that she likes the team more than her managers, and feels free to offer up her opinion. Or, perhaps she feels that her opinion isn't listened to, and is seeking an audience for it, making her appear defensive and argumentative.

In either case, one solution might be to simply listen to her arguments and show that you've heard and understood them by playing them back to her. If you can do this, she will feel respected, and will probably accept any decision you make, even if it goes against what she would have done.

Right now, you have classified her behaviour as unprofessional and disrespectful. That you say it might be cultural too tells me you could be suffering from a fundamental attribution bias - that you consider her behavior to be innate in some way, rather than caused by something in her environment. Please take a moment to consider what she might be responding to, and how you can provide a different environment in which she will behave more constructively.

7

I can understand that sometimes cultural and language barriers can become a blocking stone in the working place. However, regardless of the country she's from, she works in an organization with a particular culture and policy, hence she needs to respect that and adjust her behaviour to these aspects.

From my personal experience I would recommend you the following;

  1. Set up 1:1 sessions with her to discuss her performance and attitude to the team. These are completely different aspects but both are managed and assess by you (as her manager). You have to APPRAISE where she has demonstrated a good performance but you also need to REPRIMAND her where her attitude causes an issue in any area. You can read more about these in the The One Minute Manager

  2. Investigate her ATTITUDE TOWARDS OTHERS by discussing with other team members and/or other managers. Does she respect and support other team members/managers? If the answer to this question is NO then this needs to be recorded.

  3. Follow up your records and consider reviewing this with HUMAN RESOURCES. HR is a great tool to understand the procedures you have available to improve this aspect of her behaviour. They will also advise you when the situation is unacceptable and measures need to be take (disciplinary letters, development freeze, or even lay off actions)

If the problem is purely cultural, working with her in individual sessions to address your concerns and to provide her with examples of proper/accepted behaviour in your company should be enough to improve the situation.

Otherwise, you will need to measure whether this is an issue of arrogance and if it's worthy and manageable to keep her with your team.

7

I have noticed that dysfunctional behaviors arise usually because people do not feel heard and understood. That doesn't excuse the behavior; it just gives us a perspective that helps us think less emotionally about how to engage in the dysfunction.

I like a number of responses here especially @lunivore! Conflict avoidance is not the answer. Destructive conflict is not the answer. Active listening is critical. AND, being clear about your observations and concerns is critical.

The book "Crucial Conversations" is a phenomenal source for how to engage in such engaged conversations. Consider seeking guidance from this conflict management guide. You'll discover a dialogue approach that guides you in how to express what you clearly want and what you clearly don't want, all without attack or emotion.

Finally, I want to say that, re-reading your post and replies, I find I am concerned for the rest of the team. This ongoing conflict will absolutely take a toll on all the other team members in ways you may not yet be able to detect. The damage is there nonetheless. The longer these behaviors persist, the deeper and more damaging will the impact on the team be.

  • I agree with Jean. If one who asks is the person in charge (i.e. person responsible for making the decision) then she should clearly state (after doing what she states) that she HEARD what was said, she definitely THOUGHT about it and DECIDED. No disrespect should be taken because the arguments were processed accordingly. – Bartosz Rakowski May 30 '11 at 13:11
3

Try to speak with her to understand her concern. Maybe the issue bothering her is a real point of improvement?

If not, explain her she's here to make a defined work, that her feelings are important but not more important than the feelings of any other team member, or more important than work, and that it's part of her job to be able to work with the other team members without creating conflicts or a bad atmosphere.

2

Are there cultures that are inherently more argumentative than others? I doubt there is any truth in that and would advise not holding on to that belief as a possible cause.

I have answered similar questions like this with a 'remove and replace', to which I have received many negative scores. While she may be individually productive, her non culturally caused behavior is threatening the productivity of the team, increasing your risk for project success, and has already consumed to a greater rate seriously constrained resources to date. This is not an ongoing operations, where a manager has different obligations to his employees. This is a project, a temporary endeavor, and you simply do not have the time or other resources to cope with this in some attempt to grow this employee. There are many, many more highly productive resources (employees for those who do not like that word) out there.

HOWEVER, I keep coming back to the 'more and more' statement in this question. The argumentative behavior is increasing, which I infer that she did not start out this way. This is a clue.

Why has this behavior increased? While you many not agree with her arguments, are her suppositions with merit? Is she making a valid case notwithstanding the fact she might be all by herself in the argument? The other suggestions about meeting this head on with 1:1 discussions are spot on but I would not approach it, at least not at first, with the intent on squashing this behavior. My intent would be to understand her position, what she is seeing on the project that others might be missing, what she would do differently if she were in charge. The 'more and more' is interesting to me and likely has merit. Teams suffer from bandwagon effect, or group think. Is the team headed to imminent demise and she is the only one that sees it? That is a bit dramatic but there could be some truths in there that to which I would need to open myself up and rule out.

  • I think your point is quite valid, the cultural factor is not always an issue and it's dangerous to isolate behavioural concerns to nationality. I am completely against that. I agree with you in investigating what could be the cause of this since she was not behaving inadequately before. In my experience though, I have had people in my team that were great performers but their attitude towards other members of the team was absolutely incorrect. This is the aspect that I think @Pam Daor should be looking at. – M0N4K0 May 27 '11 at 13:20
  • This person could be decompensating sequel to frustration, not because she inherently dislikes her team. Hard to say with such a brief description of the issue. – David Espina May 27 '11 at 14:17
  • Totally agree with you. – M0N4K0 May 27 '11 at 14:20
2

You mentioned that she's "argumentative" and "disrespectful". Implied there is that she is not working well with others, or that she is reducing productivity. But you did not actually state that. Have you asked yourself the question of whether her attitude is actually making the workplace work? Would your workplace be better if you replaced her with a less-productive milquetoast employee?

Take this question seriously. Humans are inherently biased against what we perceive as "disrespectful", but at the end of the day "respect" isn't what you're getting paid for.

2

I lived the same thing 2 times.

The first time I didn’t manage the situation very well and go to the conflict. I minimized impact by focusing him on his work (first do you work before arguing about other) but it was a bad option.

The second time I speak with him and point the fact that his talks offend people, and that he may be offend in the same situation. Frequent attitude can also consist on harassment (I suppose he like some people and dislike some others). Some people are bad tempered and others not, so I accept vigorous talk but some limits must be placed. No insult, no threat, criticism are allowed if they are based on fact and bring others answers. Using some example (like Scrum, IPAD,) I explained also him that success pass by regular improvement and not by a final solution the first time. At the end, I say that I clearly understand there are some others problem with the team, me or the company and he may speak with me or us more openly to find a solution, because we will both stay in a difficult and hidden conflict situation. Because we got many open minded and peacefully discussion, I finally keep him in the team and give good feedback now. In the worse period, I was also watchful on his work to ensure he doesn’t messing up something.

To summarise, why I do:

  • Don’t go more on the conflict (like in fist case, with bad techniques or artifacts)
  • Don’t take too much time to the different discussions, that’s not the root of the problem and it’s just endless. Explain him how you want to work, not only in production but also in team management
  • Be patient and factual.
  • If you think you encounter your limit, ask his dismissal and explain that clearly to your team (and your management). Resume also the different way you tried to improve the situation.
  • Beware to others also, other people may explode first. Talk briefly to them to understand their feeling.

That’s a difficult situation, and I think we still wait too long before firing someone (but I sometimes have a good surprise) so it’s always difficult, so Good luck.

  • "To resume" means "to continue". I suppose that you mean "to summarise". – asoundmove May 27 '11 at 12:33
  • Thanks. I did the change. Hopefully, I'm more skilled in PM than in english. – Michael GUILLION May 30 '11 at 12:20
1

Tell her it's a problem and if she doesn't immediately correct herself she's gone. (Your HR department might have an official procedure.)

The important thing to remember is that you can't let one bad apple spoil the whole bushel. If you don't immediately correct this situation you're going to ruin your whole team.

Spend your time and energy on the good performers. Dismiss the ones who aren't working out.

  • Unfortunately I don't have the authority to dismiss her and she knows it. The most I can do is recommend her manager do so and he appears to be willing to overlook her attitude in favor of her productivity. – Pam Daor May 28 '11 at 2:11
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    That's rough. You should have that conversation with her manager, but don't be petty about it. Just stick to the facts and bring up specific examples. Good luck! – Michael sica May 28 '11 at 4:14
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    I would not consider it management. How long it takes before one dismiss all the team members? – Bartosz Rakowski May 30 '11 at 13:14
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These are great answers. For my the crux is in your comment - possibly cultural - you don't know why she's being this way. If you assume anything, then you close doors on solutions. Next time she gets argumentative, don't engage in the argument. Set up a meeting - a call is fine - and ask her how she thinks it can be resolved. Tell her what the affect is on the project, be clear there is no personal agenda.

If this doesn't work, you need to talk to her manager. Ask for help in making this work without the manager stepping in.

Good luck

-1

You are saying "on my team" so you are the team leader but as far as I understand you are not the direct manager of the person ? Am I right ?

In the case I am wrong the answer is pretty straightforward : the behaviour of the person is none of your business. You can simply warn your manager that there is a communication problem, no more no less.

If I understood right, I think that you should first discuss with your common up manager. it is not a good thing to lead a team and not to have punishing and rewarding power on team members. Even in a matrix structured organisation each team should have a direct boss. If you are the team leader, your up management should delegate you managing powers (otherwise you are the leader of nothing, you are just a technical consultant or planner).

Once you have real managing powers, then you should listen to everybody involved in the problem and then you should decide. It is not a discussion, it's "I listen to everybody and I decide, and things are this way".

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    "...none of your business."?? The PM should simply look away and let the behavior degrade project performance for which she is accountable? No way! A matrixed environment does not mean the PM does not have command and control over her project; it means the authority is weakened. The employee will choose, if there is inconsistency in direction, the boss who controls his economic destiny. But the PM can and should redirect maladaptive project behavior up to and including removal; else you have given up your PM responsibilities. – David Espina Jun 1 '11 at 10:11
  • You should read my answer another time, I said that if you are not the PM (team leader = PM) then this is none of your business, the third paragraph address the case where the OP is the PM (with or without punishing powers). – Sylvain Peyronnet Jun 1 '11 at 11:12
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    I see, I misinterpreted your language. I'll remove the -1 once the tool lets me. – David Espina Jun 1 '11 at 12:15

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