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3 Best Practices For Dealing With Disruptive Employees
By Russell White

Rabble rouser. Pot stirrer. Fly in the ointment. These are some terms used to describe the person in the organization that brings some benefit to the team but by far their disruption to the team far outweighs the benefit they offer. This is the person that can be passive-aggressive in meetings, send along flaming emails in the barely veiled disguise of humor, and looks to be the demonstrative non-participant in management team functions. How do you deal with this negative influence?

1. Put it on the table

Many executives either fail to recognize or fail to know how to handle this type of disruptive individual. Flowery language, working through someone else or heaven forbid in a memo are many of the ways people try to avoid having the actual sit down discussion – and they are all only making things worse for all parties involved. It’s best to lay it on the table and put some light on it.

In most cases this individual is having issues with another member of the management team and is trying to cause problems to elevate himself by comparison, is threatened by this other person or is miserable and looking for company. As the leader you need to terminate this disruption and the rippling damage it’s doing. One of the unfortunate parts of leadership is the “Hard Talk,” and this is the time for a Hard Talk.

Don’t mince words, maintain professionalism and talk openly about your point of view. Don’t expect the offender to comply. He will squirm, deflect and rationalize. Make it a short conversation stating you are aware of what is going on, site specifics and let him know it doesn’t fit your team. Short and to the point.

2. Act fast

By the time a situation like this reaches the eyes or ears of the executive significant damage has been going on for months. This is why you need to take fast action. The lasting damage cause by a manager that is disruptive to the team is done to the reputation of his boss. Everyone aware of the situation wonders why nothing is being done. I hear employees talk about these situations they witness and ask aloud, “How is this being left to go on?” This is why you must act now to stop further damage not only to the team but to your own reputation. I know the pace of business, the downsizing that has occurred and the time crunch or every day can all be oppressive to you finding time to deal with this seemingly minor issue. Commonsense says deal with this while it’s a minor issue before it gets to be a full-blown crisis. Not to mention, saving the continued disruption you might not even be noticing, but have faith it is there. Waiting for the right time to solve this problem is like waiting for the right time to get back into an exercise program………there never is a right time other than right now.

3.  Keep track of situations

Alone they never seem to amount to much of anything as we all are known to throw a silly comment or a back-handed compliment as a tease. The key to look for is the pattern to the verbal jabs and disruption. “The Kid (who is 32)” “I have underwear older than him” “I’ve forgotten more than he knows” “I learned through experience, not in the classroom” “Guess you learned a lesson from that mistake didn’t ya sonnyboy.” are all a pattern over the course of weeks directed to a specific target, and without noting them they might slide by or be brushed off as “He’s always that way,” unless you are jotting them down when they come up. Then the pattern becomes clear and action must be taken before the two managers simply will not work together and their departments are at odds.

Someone who takes thrills in causing other to be uncomfortable is playing a power play game. How much they can control the behaviors of others is where they derive their enjoyment. A turn of a phrase, dripping sarcasm, and mocking are classic class clown behavior brought to the workplace and the motivations are the same. They want the attention, are feeling insecure about something and what to be known as the peacock with the biggest feathers.

With such diverse workforces in every workplace there is plenty of room for misunderstandings, cross words and potential lawsuits caused by these individuals. If you value your team and your career which is in your hands then I encourage you to be looking for the person that is trying to keep your team from being as cohesive as you want them to be.

Russell J. White, CSP is an author, international speaker and consultant. He is president of Russell J. White International and founder of The Edgewalk Institute where his cutting edge ideas assist businesses in strategic planning, branding, leadership development and growth strategies. His most requested keynote and forthcoming book “That’s MY job??? Restoring Responsibility in the Workplace” is solving current problems for more profitable futures. He can be reached at or at 877-275-9468

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