Managing Unsociable People

Getting the Best From Solitary Team Members

Managing Unsociable People - Getting the Best From Solitary Team Members

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How do you get someone to come out of their shell?

I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude. – Henry David Thoreau

Seema manages a group of talented professionals who work well together on a number of collaborative projects. However, one team member, Kim, is the exception.

In Seema's opinion, Kim is the most technically skilled and experienced member of the group. However, she's also a loner, and she doesn't like working with the rest of the team.

She's so involved in her own tasks that she misses meetings regularly, and she doesn't share her ideas or solutions. Conversations with her are often awkward, and she can be rude and dismissive towards others.

Because of her unsociable mentality, people keep their distance, and conflict often arises when she has to work with someone else. Seema wants to keep her on the team; but she doesn't know how to integrate her with the group, and she's not even sure she should try.

Unsociable people, or "loners," can do brilliant work. However, they may also affect your group's effectiveness, if you don't handle them well. In this article, we'll look at what you can do to manage the loners on your team.

What Does it Mean to Be Unsociable?

Typically, unsociable people prefer to work alone. These individuals are often talented, intelligent and highly productive when left to their own devices, but they have little interest in sharing their ideas, collaborating or socializing with others. They can become so involved in their own work that they miss deadlines, and colleagues might see them as "grumpy" or "taciturn."

Loners and Introverts

At first glance, unsociable people might sound just like introverts. However, the two are subtly different. While introverts also prefer to work alone and might avoid speaking up in groups, they are often good listeners, and they can have a high degree of emotional intelligence.

Unsociable people, on the other hand, might feel entirely comfortable speaking in a group setting. They may be very sure of their own abilities, they may be experts in their field, and they may have a positive impact on customers due to their self-confidence, drive and energy. However, they might lack self-awareness and emotional intelligence, or dismiss others' ideas and input, preferring to pursue their own agenda instead.

So, how do you know if you have an unsociable person on your team? He or she might appear to be:

  • Aloof, grumpy or distant.
  • Distrustful or doubtful of others' abilities.
  • Perfectionistic.
  • Dismissive of deadlines or team objectives.
  • A poor communicator.
  • Insensitive and lacking empathy.
  • Self-reliant and dependable.
  • Talented, creative and intelligent.
  • Confident in his or her own skills.
  • Focused.

Clearly, there are strong positives here, as well as strong negatives. (If the positives weren't there, the person probably wouldn't still be employed.) 

As such, unsociable people can bring an enormous amount of talent and creativity to your group; they may produce exceptional work, and come up with innovative solutions. However, they also present their own set of challenges, especially when their withdrawn behavior creates friction within your team.

Dealing With Unsociable Team Members

Use the strategies below to get the best from highly skilled but unsociable team members.

Understand Why This Person Is Unsociable

Some people might demonstrate unsociable tendencies because they genuinely love working alone, while others may display this behavior for a specific reason.

For instance, your unsociable team member might feel shy around others. If you notice that he has trouble speaking up in a group, give him other opportunities to communicate with the rest of the team. For example, you could schedule smaller meetings or one-on-one sessions with him.

His lack of interaction with others could be the result of poor communication skills. So, encourage him to take our interactive quiz to get targeted feedback about where he needs to improve. You could also encourage him to develop impromptu speaking skills, teach him how to be a better listener, or show him how to improve his writing.

It's important that you approach your unsociable team member with empathy and understanding, and that you appreciate his perspective, if you expect him to change. Empathy will allow you to structure your approach to fit his wants and needs.

Identify Strengths and Weaknesses

To maximize the productivity of your unsociable team member, identify her strengths and weaknesses. Once you know what she's good at, use job-crafting strategies to build more of these tasks into her day.

Keep in mind that loners are often highly proficient in their chosen field and, if you give them opportunities to shine, they can be a real asset. Give your team member a new challenge as soon as she wraps up a project, so that you can keep her engaged and increase her job satisfaction.

When you assign your team member work, don't micromanage her. Instead, give her the time and space that she needs.

Next, find a way to work around her weaknesses. This might mean avoiding delegating tasks that depend on working with other people, or finding a colleague that she's comfortable with to serve as an intermediary.

Identify Motivation

Talk with your unsociable team member to make sure that he really does prefer to work alone. Some people might appear to be loners, but they may not know how to work closely with others.

Sit down with him one-on-one and suggest a project or team that he could be part of. If he seems willing to explore the idea, he might just need coaching on how to be a good team player. But if he resists, the chances are he's a true loner.

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This study found that loners perceive few benefits from working as part of a group. So, think carefully before you push him into being more team-oriented. Working alone is what loners do best, so avoid trying to mold him into something that he's not, as it might encourage him to move on.

Despite this, there will be times when you do need him to work in a team. In this situation, good communication is essential. Be honest about what you expect him to do, and about how long this group work will continue. Explain that, once he's finished, he can go back to his preferred working style.

Encourage Communication

One of the biggest risks with unsociable team members is their lack of communication with the rest of the group. This might cause them to produce work that's incompatible with everyone else's, or that has already been done. This can waste valuable time and resources, especially on bigger projects.

This is why it's so important to encourage your team member to communicate with her colleagues. Ask her to send regular progress updates and attend all meetings, so that she understands the group's objectives and direction.

You also need to let her know about any changes or decisions that the group makes informally. For example, your team members may share ideas during lunch or through conversations in the office, when this person isn't around. Send an email or IM, or schedule a regular one-on-one meeting, to keep her abreast of current events.

Last, talk with her honestly about how her solitary tendencies might inhibit the effectiveness of the group. For example, if she misses team meetings, explain how this affects everyone's morale. If you want her to change her behavior, be clear about exactly what needs to happen.

If her behavior doesn't affect the group's productivity, then consider allowing her to work alone in an environment where she's more comfortable. For instance, you might let her work from home, permit her to telecommute several days a week, or give her a private office.

Key Points

Unsociable people prefer to work alone. They're often talented and intelligent, and they can bring a great deal of value to an organization. However, they tend to resist working closely with a team, and might even cause conflict and miss deadlines, because they're so focused on their own objectives.

To manage unsociable team members, identify their strengths and weaknesses. Use job-crafting strategies to get them to play to their strengths, and keep them in the loop on changes or decisions that your team makes informally. If their behavior affects the group negatively, discuss it with them, and explain how you'd like them to change it.

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