How to manage difficult but top performing team members

Geniuses can be managed. Picture: BBC

One of the most frustrating and personally challenging things to deal with as a manager is having a top performing team member who performs really well, but is difficult to work with.

In sales teams, this is the person who always comes through when you need sales the most – you love them. But they are so hard to get along with, you sometimes want to scream.

Whether the difficult person on your team is demanding by nature, impatient, a perfectionist, or merely a prima donna, here are six tips to managing them that may help you make it through the day:

1. Try to understand.

Difficult people are often frustrated people. Sometimes the best way to deal with them is to listen and try to understand what’s motivating their poor behavior. The difficult person may be difficult because past experiences have taught them the only way they can achieve something is to push their way through the organization – you may need to reset their approach or create new experiences that support different behaviors.

2. Ask how you can help.

Sometimes the best way to defuse someone who is difficult to work with is merely to ask them how you can help them. By asking, you focus your interaction on a particular activity. It may create an opportunity to share responsibilities in solving an issue or partnering on an opportunity. The difficult person may soften their approach when they are part of the solution.

3. Limit the subject and offer options.

When interacting with a difficult sales person, limit the topic of discussion to pointed items. Address things one at a time and when you can, offer options they can decide upon. Make them part of the solution.

Sometimes it’s better to let them go. Picture: BBC

4. Don’t be afraid of losing them.

No one wants to lose a top performing sales person. By definition, they close a lot of sales and make the company a lot of money.

That said, there is a limit to poor behavior. If the difficult sales person is disrupting the rest of your team or creating situations where working relationships are damaged, you need to step in and counsel the difficult person. If that time comes, you can’t be concerned about them quitting their job and working elsewhere – you need to be more concerned about the morale and performance of the greater workgroup.

5. Check to see if they’re difficult with customers too.

You need to know if the difficult personality you’re dealing with is as difficult with customers as they are around your office. It is possible customers are tolerating your sales person because other sources for your products or services aren’t available or your company offers something they value more than the frustration they have dealing with your difficult person. If so, it may only be a matter of time before they can find a suitable replacement for your company.

If you learn your sales person is difficult for customers to deal with, no matter how much they sell, you need to address their behavior immediately.

6. Document and alert HR.

If the difficult person doesn’t improve their behavior, you need to make your counseling more formal. Document specific situations where the sales person is difficult to work with and make them aware of the impact they are having on your team and company.

Keep HR aware of your counseling; you may need them involved in properly terminating the difficult person if things don’t improve.

Managing a difficult person can be draining – mentally, emotionally, and physically. But it’s something you have to deal with, even if the difficult person is a top performer. Using the six tips in this post, you may be able to diffuse the difficult person and make life tolerable. If not, you may need to let them go.

Pree Sarkar is a sales recruitment expert and consults to global and start-up software and services companies. Pree is the Director of Searchcraft, which recruits top sales performers for technology companies. Pree blogs and also publishes reports on industry best practices for sales leaders from his experiences. His latest is The Sales Manager’s Guide to Maximising Performance.

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