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Google's Project Aristotle describes "psychological safety" as what matters the most for teams to effectively work together. The study cites another, Psychological Safety and Learning Behavior in Work Teams, where psychological safety is defined and its impact in the workplace studied. In the latter, team psychological safety is defined as follows (page 6, emphasis mine):

a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking.

(...)

Team psychological safety involves but goes beyond interpersonal trust; it describes a team climate characterized by interpersonal trust and mutual respect in which people are comfortable being themselves.

The challenge, I feel, is to ensure people are comfortable being themselves while also behaving professionally. How to address individual misbehaviours while preserving the team psychological safety?

Here is a concrete example with a colleague in my team. He's one of the senior engineers in the team and often behaves similarly to what is described in the opening paragraph of this blog post:

Most folks have worked with someone who thinks they’re never wrong. In each discussion, they lean in, broaden their shoulders and breach their way into the role of the decider. They’ll continue debating until their perspective wins the day or time runs out. They are often right, but right in a way that sucks the oxygen out of the room.

When I tried to bring this to his attention, he replied that he felt uncomfortable changing because he wouldn't feel like he was being himself anymore. The way I addressed this was saying who he is cannot get in the way of other team mates feeling uncomfortable discussing any topic with him. He disagreed and felt he "needed to be convinced" (his exact words) before he could change his attitude. We had reached a deadlock and that was end of the conversation.

What do suggest as next steps in the above case?

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    Welcome new user - can you clarify, are you in charge of AggressiveExamplePerson, or, are you a colleague of AggressiveExamplePerson? – Fattie Nov 21 at 13:46
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    Good question, I'm his colleague. Should I bring this to manager's attention? – WorkPlacer Nov 21 at 13:51
  • Heh! Geesh, now I have to put in another answer :/ – Fattie Nov 21 at 13:56
  • Sorry, my bad for not being clearer. – WorkPlacer Nov 21 at 13:58
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This is a matter of conflict management already - it is even past conflict avoidance. Of course, the conflict should not be escalated or worsened, it at all possible.

There are a few topics that have to be made clear to him:

  • in a team, the goal of the team takes precedence to the individual goals;
  • one's freedom ends where another one's freedom is begins;
  • in a team, everyone is entitled to share their opinion;

The manager / leader of the team has only has a few options in this case:

  • clarify the above topics with the team member;
  • enforce during the meetings the rule that only one person speaks at one moment;
  • the meeting leader is responsible to decide who is the next to talk - respecting everyone's rights to speak and be heard;
  • let the strong-opinionated guy to speak the last, after everyone already expressed their ideas.

If he decides to be still a rebel and destroy the team bonds, then administrative actions should be taken:

  • strict behavior to be followed, decided by his manager;
  • involvement of HR;
  • moving him to another team, where he is less likely to create damage;
  • ultimately, if everything fails, let him find another job where he can be "himself".

As an alternative / external way to deal with the situation is to ask the guy to hire the services of an external advisor / coach / psychologist / whatever.

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I think the idea you have, that people have to right to be themselves, is just plain wrong, certainly in the workplace. Certainly in the workplace it's more important that people show each other a certain minimum of politeness. Like Fattie says, don't let some random article cloud your mind. The article prevents you from seeing the situation for what it is, just simply a colleague behaving rudely. The solution is also simple, someone higher-up, your mananager, HR etc should order him to tone down.

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(I'm assuming OP is in charge of AggressiveExamplePerson...)

Obviously, blatantly, and clearly, the behavior of AggressiveExamplePerson is totally unviable for a workplace.

  1. Tell him to change his behavior or he will be let go

  2. If he doesn't change his behavior, let him go

Note that - of course, obviously - you can't allow a person to behave that way in any work setting. In extremis, everyone else will quit.

One caveat, sure, you can "play the nice company" by offering AggressiveExamplePerson "one more chance" if he undergoes some external counseling BS, as suggested in another answer.

Do note that what is being described here is nothing more than "an incredibly rude employee".

The psychodrama about the person feeling like himself (or ... whatever) is completely valueless. The literal language to use is:

"Steve, as you know you have huge problems with rudeness in meetings. Unfortunately, this has come to a head. We're happy to give you one more chance, otherwise the 19th will be your last day with us. Jack from HR has some fluff psychology books for you to read, which may help, good luck."

One point, if this is software related, the whole entire nature of doing software is discussing and deciding on architectural solutions. It's a miracle AggressiveExamplePerson has any job, based on the description.


(Aside - the mentioned article is utterly nonsensical, and of no value whatsoever, on any level, and indeed has utterly no connection to this situation.) ("The situation" here is "how to fire a very rude employee".)

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  • You mean the article on psychological safety? I refer to it because of the conflict that can emerge between "being yourself" and that having a negative impact on other team members. – WorkPlacer Nov 21 at 14:00
  • I'm afraid that is my opinion of the article, WP, correct. Super-rude people get fired, and that's it. – Fattie Nov 21 at 14:01
  • You're essentially being "spectacularly too kind" towards the rude person in question :) Good luck! – Fattie Nov 21 at 14:02
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(Assuming the AggressiveExamplePerson is a colleague.)

Unfortunately it is "none of your business." For better or worse, companies can run the way they want. Unfortunately as an employee there is only one solution, leave if unhappy.

Hence,

  1. Clearly, dispassionately, and vigorously tell management in writing that AggressiveExamplePerson is very rude and not suitable to work with others. (Note that all that has to be said is "very rude".)

  2. State that you will likely leave if the person's rudeness isn't curtailed.

  3. Do not address the issue in any way with AggressiveExamplePerson.

  4. Unfortunately, if they don't fire the person, unfortunately as in any case of "something about my current job sucks" there's really only one alternative, move on.

Again, the next step is clearly and vigorously tell management in writing that AggressiveExamplePerson is very rude and not suitable to work with others. Unfortunately, beyond that it is up to them, I'm afraid.

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