Bottom Line

I have some really hard dates and part of the team is unwilling - but no unable - to help.  Should I ask them to commit to the team or leave?


Due to lots of circumstances (layoffs, product changes, etc), my team is struggling to be able to meet customer needs.  (We do software development.)  Some of the team are really sharp but have actually told me that they considered the work beneath their abilities. I won't go into 4 months of discussions on that but it was trying but I thought I'd turned them around.

I've been told we have 6 more months to get on track for the existing products that are paying the bills versus some new stuff that was more interesting to them.  (There was no "or else" statement but it was pretty clear what that would be!)  This is really going to require everyone to pull together to get it done.  I and some of the team believe that we can do this.  But a few people do not. 

I'm thinking that letting those people stay will bring down the rest.  So, I'd like to ask them to commit to doing what ever is necessary.  If they cannot, I do not want them on the team.  They are very vocal and will discourage everyone else.  I'm not sure HR will go along with it but I'm going to ask.  I'd be willing to try to help them find other spots.  But I really think it's time for them to sign on or leave.

I'd hope they could commit - but I'm not sure I'd believe them.  The other sad thing is they are really sharp.  When I get to doing new things in about 5 months I could use their skills.  But by keeping them I think I send the wrong message as well as just having the drag factor.

Does this make any sense?  Is there something I'm really missing?  I've been spending the last 4 months giving feedback - with success I thought.  But now I discover that it was only because they thought the products were going away or would become someone else's problem.  That is not going to happen.  So, can I ask them point blank if they can be happy with that (not just go along begrudgingly)?

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I rarely recommend such brinksmanship.

I'll have more to say later today, but just in case you were thinking of doing so today, I'd urge you not to.

stephenbooth_uk's picture

I find that sort of behaviour (saying work is beneath them) very frustrating.  I've seen it a lot in IT, both developers and support.  I believe that a lot of the time it's code for "I don't wanna".  I've also seen it when developers are asked to do unit testing or recode something, there I think it's to do with ruffled pride ("How dare you suggest that my code is less than perfect!") as much as anything.

Like Mark, I wouldn't recommend brinksmanship.  If you're going to make a threat then you have to be ready to carry it out and whether you do or not you have forever tainted the relationships you have with the team.

I think some feedback is in order.  Something like "When you tell me that [working on software that is the bread and butter of our company and pays our wages] is beneath you, here's what happens. It makes me think that you don't understand where your pay comes from and how a company works.  It makes me wonder if you are a good fit here and are someone we need going forward.  What can you do differently?"  Maybe slip in somewhere (probably as a separate conversation) that you're aware they're more interested in the newer stuff that coming down the pike, but right now it's the currect products that are the priority and they can't get to the new stuff till that's out the way and signed off.  We're paid to do what gets the cash flowing in (in part because that's where our pay comes from) not the fun stuff.



Skype: stephenbooth_uk

DiSC: 6137

Experience is how you avoid failure, failure is what gives you experience.

MsSunshine's picture

I'm not going to do something today...I'm probably much too cautious sometimes :^)  But the podcast on being sure of how you are feeling before talking to someone reinforced taking this one slowly.  I'm also reviewing the other ones on feedback to make sure I'm being clear.  However, I do have a clock ticking that is giving me a strong sense of urgency!

I have already had multiple discussions and given feedback to them around needing to do the work the company asks them to do, continual complaining being raised to upper management, other team members avoiding them, etc.  They are mostly "High C" people, so I'm going to pull out lots of facts and lead them towards the obvious conclusion.  This week I'm having the Product Manager do a presentation on the facts of the groups revenue and costs so it's really clear how we stand.  I don't want to frighten the others but need to make sure they understand the current state (since they don't seem to be picking up on it!)  I'm going to be very clear on the current deadlines and what I expect them to contribute.  If someone goes down a bad path, I'll use the next stage of feedback on not adjusting to my feedback.  I've written down my feedback to date and it seems clear.  But I'll check that again to make sure. 

I have stopped short of saying that it made me wonder if they were a good fit here.  I have asked point blank if they thought they could live with the changes and needed to look elsewhere.  I said I was willing to help them with finding something else in the company or their resume if that was how they felt.

BUT....I can't afford to have this go on too long.  I've only got about 5 months.  I'm thinking I give them to the end of the month.  Then I have to give them a verbal warning.  Then the company policy is 2 weeks to a written and 4 weeks to the end.  But that's half the time I have to get this turned around....  :^(

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I think to some degree we're focusing on attitude when really their attitude doesn't matter - it's their behaviors that can be measured, observed and produce results.

What behaviors do you want?  Work done on time, of acceptable quality.  And no communications about lack of interest in the work.

Develop a plan, and be clear about who owns what deliverables and reporting thereon.  Give feedback at every turn.  For those who "aren't on board" tell them directly that you will give them negative feedback each time you hear of anything from anyone regarding their lack of respect or interest in the work.  Hold them strictly accountable.

IGNORE their attitudes.  If you're going to get rid of them, do it the ironclad way: with work product and (to a much lesser degree) unprofessional communication.  If they respond, well done.  If they don't, they'll see themselves out.

And this is the only way to put the project first.

tlhausmann's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

As part of the feedback plan, you may consider that when "bread and butter" tasks fail *their* credibility suffers. In fact, the whole department's credibility suffers.

If allowed to continue the company begins to have doubts about bringing new projects to your team for consideration.

I often ask rhetorically, "Would you trust a refrigerator that only works six days a week?" Ok, then make sure the basic projects are on-track and successful.

MsSunshine's picture

I fall into the attitude trap all the time it seems!  Sigh...  I get your point.  But my General Manager has actually gone on record saying that he doesn't want people with attitude problems ... be happy or leave (in close to that wording). I really don't want to get rid of them.  They could really help me a lot with any new initiatives because they are great in that area.  But I do not have the time to listen to them gripe every time I ask them to do something that doesn't excite them either.

I like the credibility idea too because I have actually heard that ... not directly stated but implied.  It didn't really resonate with me until you said that.  My concern is that they may not care what other people think about them.  I would say one does and one won't.  I think the comment I might get back is along the lines that they are the smartest person to do it so they would get the task anyway....or it's our specialty so who else would do it.  Then I really don't want to start down the path of there being other smart people....  That seems like a black hole to me.

MsSunshine's picture

Bottom line

When someone the team says the whole group feels some way, do I ask them individually or as the whole group? 


One of my team members told me that the entire team in his location was angry, offended, upset at my recent meeting.  At that meeting, I had told them that we had to reach a set of goals in about 4 months.  I said I believed we could do this and the Project Manager and I would lay out the releases and work with Product Management solidifying their expectations.  We need to think about how to do things more efficiently and gave two examples of how two people recently had come up with a new process that cut down on a lot of time for a task.  By doing this, we would then have time to do some new initiatives.  But we needed to deliver the core products first.  I thought I was careful with my words because of the thread above and people being unhappy about having to do some things that are in all honesty less exciting.  I realize that people weren't going to be happy but we need to pay the bills first!

So, I was prepared to have the one-on-one conversations above with a direct who I knew would be unhappy with not doing new stuff. The direct walked in the door and said the whole team is really angry at me about the meeting.  (I had talked to some of them but not everyone since I came back and no one said anything.)  I said I realized that it was a hard message to hear but we needed to know Product Management expectations.  He then said that the whole team said I blame them for management mistakes, ask them to be efficient in their work but am more inefficient in having high paid people doing tasks beneath, don't back them up when Product Management complains about them, he wasn't sure he trusted me any more because I didn't defend them, ...  It was probably 10 minutes of being in my face.

I was stunned.  I apologized and walked through my message, all the objections he raised, pressing that we needed to do what was in the best interest of the company.  I'm not sure if it was intended as a threat but he said that someone told him to go to our General Manager and complain about us making inefficient use of resources.  I kept reiterating my points.  Afterward, I called my Project Manager who was there but not in that location.  She said he was basically full of it and a whiner.  She thought he just doesn't like the message and offense is the best defense.  She doesn't believe the rest of the team thinks that at all.

I'd like to entertain both sides.  I obviously didn't record myself .  It could be very likely that someone misinterpreted what I was trying to say.  I had tried to word things carefully and give examples.  It wasn't a happy message but I felt they needed to know expectations and the reality of our financial situation.  But I'm open to it being something I said the wrong way.  I'd like to give them the benefit of the doubt.   This person is very outspoken.  I think a few others would give me honest feedback if I asked.  They are more quiet and may not do it in public though.  One or two out of the 5 may. I get them together as a small group and ask?  Do I ask at my one-on-ones?  I don't believe I should just let it go.


fchalif's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge


Do all team members report to you? Does that particular team member report to you? How are your O3s with him? Is he one of the team members who was pushing back before?

I recommend not pressing too much on the issue of the specific and how it may not have gone well. Maybe because of what you had to say, it could not have gone "well" anyways. Keep moving forward with the new objectives, expectations and time lines. If there are any issues of importance, you will see it in their performance. Give them feedback. Keep them focused on the new track.


rgbiv99's picture

I agree with Frankie. The important thing is to keep them focused on getting the work done and not on how outraged they are about what you said. I would not have another meeting to talk about how they interpreted your message.

I also find it amusing that he is threatening to go to your GM about it. What is he going to say, "My meanie manager is making me meet my deadlines on time!"?


Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

He's a whiner.  And Frankie's right.

Don't have another meeting.  Continue one on ones.  Don't repeat the comment - which is essentially unprofessional anyway.  Ask what people think.  Decide who's on board and who isn't.  Assign tasks, and hold folks accountable.  Give feedback - INCLUDING POSITIVE.

The problem with people speaking for others is that the loudest one purports to speak for all.  He legitimately believes he is right that everyone agrees...because those who don't won't contradict him when he is ranting.  And he WAS ranting if someone suggested he go to the GM...would they have suggested THAT if he had been mild and somewhat on the fence?  No.  He was behaving inappropriately...PARTICULARLY if he was in your face.

And Kate's right too - imagine him complaining about you trying to get work done.  And really, "inefficient resource use?"  This is laughable.

If he persists, call his bluff, and escort him to the GM's office.  Watch him blanch.

MsSunshine's picture

It took me overnight to realize that by questioning my integrity, threatening to go to upper management and threatening to quit he was just trying to push my buttons...and unfortunately I let him.  :^( 

I guess it's a good lesson to learn.  I also talked to HR & my VP about the situation and am getting some great feedback and coaching.  There are going to be some conversations with him about this.  But they had some good thoughts for me to ponder. 

I do have another question for you though.  Is it wrong to apologize if you think you could have been misunderstood or said a phrase that could be interpreted a way you didn't intend?  The comment was that my apologizing  put him in control and me in a defensive position which he took advantage of.  I said something like "I apologize if I said something that you found offensive.  It was not my intention and I'm sorry you misunderstood me."  The suggestion I should have simply said "let me clarify what I meant" and not apologize.  I've got to think about that one.  That was 2 minutes into the conversation and I sincerely thought that I could have said something the wrong way or used a wrong word.  I don't have a photographic memory!  Later in the conversation I realized I had said exactly what I meant to say.  But early in the game it didn't seem wrong to extend an olive branch.

fchalif's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge


I find myself apologizing quite often, sometimes without realizing it, so I don't think you need to worry about the apology made. If he chose to misinterpret it, that's his issue.

I find it is better to apolgize and wonder if you really needed to then to not apologize and wonder if I should have; even worse is when the other party is truly hurt and you don't realize it - but this is not the case.

I advise you to move on - it appears to me that you are doing your best, communicating to your team consistently. Conflict happens, try to not let it get to you, as much as you can. The sense of urgency you are communicating about allows you to focus on the matter at hand; and that is the work.


jhack's picture

 "I apologize if I said something that you found offensive.  It was not my intention and I'm sorry you misunderstood me." 

That's not really an apology.  There is an excellent apology podcast, actually, and it will explain why that apology didn't work:

John Hack

430jan's picture

I'm sorry for the awful way your teammate is behaving. These conversations are so easy to correct after they are over, right?  I can always think of a million brilliant points I should have made.

Reading back to your post about the DR's challenge....Do you think it was the apology, or countering all his objections that gave him power and the moxie to continue arguing?

I think more outrageous is that he got to have your ear for 10 minutes on a rant. Wow. I'm probably not as calm and cool as you are. I think that if he was as agitated as he sounded I would have ended the conversation immediately (calmly and quietly) and told him to compose himself and come back in when he was ready to speak in a calm tone about achieving the objectives. The project's got to be done, right?

And I also have a policy that whenever someone says that they are going to quit I get out a piece of paper and tell them that their resignation is accepted. Open communication doesn't involve blackmail.

You're whole team isn't buying this guy's logic. They know something has to pay the bills. Don't they have a million friends out of work right now? You probably are in better shape than you think.

Keep going! Hurray for you!

MsSunshine's picture

OH....I missed that cast.  I get the point of the "if".  I'm actually okay.  I made some mistakes.  I'm working to solve some issues that this is really just bringing into the spotlight.

So, how is this for an apology? 

"I apologize for not effectively communicating the business plans at our last meeting.  I'm sorry.  I will do everything I can to clarify that information."

(I admit that I still want to put in the "if" or say the "sorry if you...".  BUT ... I see the point.  I do apologize with no problem but am interested to see how this change affects the situations.)  I feel I can say this because the fact that some people were confused means I did not communicate it effectively.

I'm still pondering something.

  • My VP explicitly said not to apologize.  I have a meeting set to clarify the business plans with the team.  My VP and Product Management will be there to help clarify since it was their comments I was passing on.  I would have apologized there at the start.  BUT my VP explicitly asked to see my script and said "DO NOT APOLOGIZE".  Yep - with that emphasis!  Do I go back to my VP and state that I would like to give this apology?  I could try doing the feel-felt-found paradigm.  But...if I had to guess she'd say no.  My other thought is to do the apology in my one-on-ones and ask if it is now clear.  That is more personal.  But am I then really going against her intent?
Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge


Of course, we have a cast on apologies.  Good reminders in there.  I, er, highly recommend it. ;-)

Now.  Regarding the utility of apologizing.  You are right that he probably saw it as a weakness.  It's a standard MISTAKE that people make - that an apology is an admission of guilt.  So, good analysis.

And here's where it gets harder.  "Should" you have?  Well, if you know me, you know I don't like shoulds (except in church).  There are two schools of thought.  One is that apologizing is a sign of weakness, an admission of guilt.  Some people say that because THEY feel that way when THEY apologize.

Of course, these people are the ones who never apologize.

The other school of thought is that apologizing is a sign of strength, and an act of respect for the other person.  It says that we always want situations to turn out well, and when they don't, we look for ways we could have done better, and we apologize for those things.

In most political situations, corporate and governing, an apology is considered the former.  They think it's weak, and guilty.  And weakness and guilt causes the opposition to be more aggressive.

So, if you want to be a politician, don't apologize.  If you're willing to be thought weak while actually feeling strong and respectful...apologize.  The other party won't respond the way you want...but that's their issue.

No, it's not wrong to apologize.  it's right. It's a sign of strength if you choose - YOU CHOOSE - to see it that way. But some  people see it as a sign of weakness, because they're...weak.

Who can argue with strength and an olive branch? :-)))

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

I started my response before you posted your last, and finished it this morning, after your last.

Your VP is wrong.  He's coming at this from a place of weakness.  Apologize.  It's gracious. You have to work with these people.

And definitely no if's.  What you posited was very good.


THAT SAID... why are you apologizing AGAIN?  At some point - and it may be NOW - this whole thing is MOOT.  If you're thinking of having a meeting to apologize...DON'T.  I thought you were talking about whether you were right to do so or not...not planning a specific meeting to do so.  You don't need to drag this thing out for what MAY have been a miscommunication.  Remember that communication what the listener does - HIS anger and frustration made him a lousy listener.

Let it go.

ChrisBakerPM's picture

Some people have an excessive need to be right, especially when they know inwardly that they are in the wrong about something else. I wonder whether your teammates are doing that? (That is, they know the chips are down re the work and so are moving to a distraction ploy about the Business Plan).  I have worked with people like that. It's as if, because you (allegedly) messed up and were willing to admit it, they are now entitled to mess something up. For some folks (look in your local IT Department, perhaps?) Being Right is also hugely important, and getting someone to apologize for being wrong, over anything no matter how trivial is a way of asserting dominance.

I don't think I'm terribly good at handling that variety of Stupid Behaviour by Smart People, and would welcome suggestions from the forum.  My approach is to try to stay calm enough to refuse to play the "who is the silver-backed gorilla here?" game.  Play the apologize-if-wrong-then-get-back-to-work game instead. In that game, apologizing is not a big loss of face, or a preparation to have to  someone else an unjustified let-off. That is, I would hope to acknowledge their point if there is a good one, apologize briefly and willingly if I did something badly, and make sure I do better next time.  Then, go back to that discussion about deadlines or other responsibilities. Meanwhile I try to subdue an inner wish that, like Darth Vadar, I could strangle people with The Force when they annoy me. But I hope to get better at this stuff over time.

Is that what you more experienced folk out there do? I'd appreciate your comments!

Getting Past No: Negotiating with Difficult People By William Ury is a useful book on negotiating with difficult people, but it sounds like things are a bit frantic for MSSUNSHINE to be reading a how-to book just now!

MSSUNSHINE - I just want to say that what comes out of all this correspondence is your relentless wish to do the right professional thing.  I think you must be doing the very best you can, in very difficult circumstances.  I second the "Keep going! Hurray for you!" Hopefully your manager peers and superiors can also take time to give you support.

MsSunshine's picture

I agree, it's time to put this to rest.  The meeting is actually to clarify the business requirements and give some quarterly numbers.  The real problem I'm trying to solve with this is to have the team clear on the tough business situation we are in.  Some are already on board and saying "great.  We can do this."    The high c's are struggling but I'm used to that side.  (And this is software development so there are lots of those....)

I have to be honest and say, though, that some part of me had some very unprofessional angry thoughts at my direct.  :^)  I did remember that pod-cast and resist the urge!  Honestly, I also believe if he is really that unhappy, he'd be better off leaving.  I've seen inertia stop too many people.  But...I'll really try to push those emotions away for the process.  It helps that I have the respect/trust of the rest of the team to think about too.

Mark's picture
Admin Role Badge

Anger is a normal and sometimes productive emotion.

The expression of anger at others isn't what effective managers do.

ashdenver's picture

When someone whines at me about something, I turn it back to them in true therapist fashion.

  • What would you like me to do about this?
  • What options do you have available to address this?
  • What are you going to do about this?
  • What approaches have you already to resolve this?

If you respond to a whine-fest with a string of questions, people generally pick-up on the message: I'd better have my ducks in a row before I even bring this up.  By going through the exercise of clarifying one's thoughts around the issue, the individually generally finds new, helpful information or figures out a solution themselves. 

The other "benefit" is the person - with enough practice - learns that it's more work & effort to bring complaints to you (because you ask so much of them) that they learn it's less work to just address the issue professionally than to complain about it.

As for anger, I've generally found that the anger I find inside myself toward the other person is actually a reflection of something within myself that I don't like or want to be part of who I am.  Removing the anger from the other person helps it dissipate more quickly, I've found. ("Argh, that pompous condescending windbag!" is a reflection of how I don't like it when I exhibit any of those things to other people.)

430jan's picture

Being a boss is pressure. Thank you for sharing your frustrations. Most of us have had these experiences and some were dealt with better than others. You have some team members that are ready to roll. I sure do hope that they get with it!

Be sure to tell us when your team members have pressured this guy into silence because he is threatening their job. I think that will happen because of your efforts to keep it on the goal set before you and push past your anger to manage your team effectively.

Meantime, I hope you get a long walk on a sunny day this weekend.

lazerus's picture

I had a DR once who said something inappropriate to another DR in public, in an inappropriately loud voice, at an inappropriate distance from her face.  Part of MY feedback then was to suggest he apologize. He refused, giving me one more opportunity for feedback about professional behavior. Because he did not apologize, the victimized DR took the issue to a higher court which in turn caused a measurable amount of lost productivity and further deteriorated relationships. My suggestion to apologize was given not as a way to "dominate" but to teach the offending DR the difference between right and wrong regardless of how YOU feel. Other people's feelings and the productivity of the team are the important thing.  

ChrisBakerPM's picture

Agree with you there, LAZERUS - sometimes demanding an apology is perfectly appropriate or even vital (as opposed to being a distraction or dominance ruse). I suppose that apologizing promptly for ones own failures ought to defuse either case.

I liked ASHDENVERS "Therapist" idea for dealing with whiners! Must remember to try that. The beauty of it is that it will work with someone who genuinely needs a sounding board for their frustrations and ALSO for someone who is just causing trouble.