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Difficult team members: The Key Contributor with Challenging Traits

How can organizations effectively manage the complexities posed by valuable contributors?

Navigating the complexities of difficult coworker becomes even more challenging when they are key players in the workplace.

The Key Contributor with Challenging Traits: a team member who is undeniably crucial to the company's achievements, possessing exceptional skills and consistently delivering outstanding results. However, despite their significant contributions, many colleagues find their behaviour difficult to deal with.
Maybe you've encountered some of these real-life situations and recognize them within your team. Here are some examples of potential complaints expressed by coworkers:
  • One situation that frequently arises is when the team is discussing different perspectives and ideas. John, a key contributor with challenging traits, tends to dismiss suggestions from certain individuals from different departments, treating them unfairly and devaluing their input (Out-group homogeneity bias). This behaviour creates a sense of exclusion among his colleagues, leading to frustration and a breakdown in collaboration.

  • Another issue arises when John communicates his thoughts and intentions. He assumes that his colleagues can easily understand his perspective without explicitly expressing it (Illusion of transparency). This assumption often leads to misunderstandings and misinterpretations, as his colleagues struggle to grasp his true intentions, affecting the overall teamwork.

  • Due to his deep knowledge in the field, he sometimes struggles to communicate complex concepts in a way that others can understand (Curse of knowledge). This creates a barrier to effective collaboration, as his colleagues may struggle to keep up or feel left out of important discussions.

  • Additionally, once John becomes aware of a particular idea or perspective, he starts noticing it more frequently and attributes greater importance to it (Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon). This tendency prevents him from considering alternative viewpoints or exploring new possibilities, limiting the team's ability to find creative solutions.

  • Moreover, John's reaction to suggestions or feedback challenging his existing beliefs is often met with scepticism and disregard (Reactive devaluation). This behaviour undermines trust and discourages open communication within the team.

  • Furthermore, John tends to attribute traits or characteristics to others based on limited information which can lead to misjudgments and misinterpretations of his colleagues' capabilities, potentially hindering effective collaboration (Trait Ascription Bias). As a result, his coworkers feel misunderstood, unfairly assessed, and their contributions undervalued, which further strains working relationships and team dynamics.

  • Lastly, John's high level of expertise in a specific field may lead him to demonstrate unwarranted confidence and vocalize opinions even in areas where his expertise is lacking (Dunning-Kruger Effect). This can result in disregarding valuable input from knowledgeable colleagues and setbacks for the project. His coworkers feel frustrated, undervalued, and their trust in John's judgment erodes, hindering effective collaboration and decision-making.

While the Key Contributor with Challenging Traits may be instrumental to the company's success, addressing the concerns raised by their colleagues is essential for maintaining a harmonious and productive work environment.


How can HR effectively navigate the delicate balance of addressing co-worker concerns without jeopardizing project success and harming key contributors? In addition to providing feedback and fostering open communication, organizations need to recognize that employees, especially key contributors with challenging traits, can fall prey to distorted thinking, mental shortcuts, and cognitive biases that greatly impact team dynamics.
To address these challenges and foster a positive and productive work environment, HR can implement the following strategies:
  • Mind Management Workshops: Organizing workshops for the entire team can enhance understanding and facilitate navigation of cognitive biases in the workplace. These workshops equip team members with knowledge and tools to identify cognitive distortions and replace them with accurate thoughts, promoting a more positive work environment.

  • Offer Individual Development Opportunities: Providing individuals like John with opportunities for individual development, such as leadership training or emotional intelligence workshops, can enhance self-awareness and equip them with the necessary skills to navigate their cognitive biases effectively.

  • Employee Assistance Program: Implementing an employee assistance program provides support to both John and other team members, offering them confidential access to emotional support, psychological counselling, and resources to cope with any work-related difficulties or challenges arising from working with difficult individuals.

By addressing the challenges associated with cognitive biases, the HR department aims to create a collaborative and productive work environment for the entire team. This proactive and empathetic approach focuses on supporting John's personal growth while considering the needs and concerns of the team as a whole. For further in-depth exploration of cognitive biases in the work environment, check out various articles that delve into different cognitive biases and their implications. These resources will provide valuable insights and strategies for managing cognitive biases in the workplace.
Contact us to learn more about how we can design customized workshops or lectures to improve the atmosphere within your team to foster a more harmonious and successful work environment.



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