What Can You Do With an Outlier Among You?

There is one person in your group or on your team that is a 180 degrees out of phase with everyone else.

I’m not referring to someone who aligns with the values of their fellow teammates and merely finds a unique and special way of expressing them; a person who imprints their personal signature on everything they touch; who finds conformance to standard pedagogy repugnant.

No. I’m referring to an individual who is ideologically distant from their colleagues in literally every respect; someone who is constantly in the ‘no’ position when everyone else is ‘yes’.

And who is a condescending specialist who constantly criticizes past efforts of others.

It’s exhausting dealing with an outlier person because you know with every issue comes a battle with a predictable outcome — Roy, gladiator

And at some point, after trying all the conflict management and team building tools espoused by the experts, you have no choice but to adopt more draconian measures to deal with the dysfunction the outlier creates.

As the leader of a team with an outlier you and others have to work alongside, what can you do to press ahead in spite of them?

Know and ‘accept’ the beast

Accept the reality of who the person is and that they will forever be out of synch  with the rest of the team; this is the hand you’ve been dealt so work with it.

This is all about setting realistic expectations of what they will do and how they will do it in order to manage them in a team setting. Consensus is impossible; achieving likemindedness on any issue is the impossible dream.

Some will say this is a defeatist attitude and they’re right in a sense. But it’s also a necessary and realistic one that defines the context within which a leader sometimes has to work if any progress is to be made.

With an outlier the leader’s energy must be challenged into managing the beast rather than trying to change them.

Call for a vote

Forget about investing the time and effort in trying to reach consensus on an issue; it won’t happen.

Of course you have to engage in conversation on the topic at hand, but realize at some point as the outlier lands on their polarized position you have to call for a vote to move things forward.

More debate with an outlier isn’t productive; it merely gives them a platform to promulgate their narrative.

So allow a certain amount of air time for discussion — call the vote — make the call.

Avoid entrapment

These types love to carry their narrative on and on and on and suck others into the never ending conversation hoping they will be able to sway you to their side.

But the conversation and email string never end. There’s never closure because they want their minority view to win the day.

The only way to avoid entrapment in the discussion do-loop is to state your views once and let it go at that. You may think that by continuing to engage with them that they will moderate their position to that of the rest of the team, but they won’t ..... ever!

This is where resisting the temptation to engage and feed the outlier’s narrative is essential.

Be polite

After all, we shouldn’t stoop to their level should we?

For me, gritting my teeth and biting my tongue are the tools I rely on to get me through experiences with the outlier and masking it ever so genuinely by being polite (or at least as much as I can stomach).

Otherwise I would be ‘stressed to the nines’ constantly with nothing to show for it but high blood pressure and migraines — Roy, pain relief please

Politeness is supposed to be a Canadian thing so it should come easier to me, but it doesn’t when it comes to dealing with an outlier. But soldier on, wear the grin, pretend you care about their message… but never relax.

Call them out

The outlier needs to understand when they have pushed too far and are pummelling the needs of the majority.

These are the times when they need to be rocked back on their heels forcefully (but politely) and told that they have occupied way too much airtime and are infringing on the rights of others.

You need a call-out tool for such circumstances; one that allows you to cease the unacceptable behaviour of the outlier.

Mine is always to literally say ‘STOP!’ directly to them and ask that everyone move on to resolve the matter at hand. It’s not a comfortable action for the leader to take, but it’s essential if productive work is to be achieved.

Find greener pastures

For the greater good, the outlier must eventually move on and find another environment where perhaps they will find greater comfort and prosperity — they will be happier as will your team.

The leader must take responsibility for seeing whether a change can be made and to make it happen.

It’s tough to do because of the bad blood that exists with the outlier; working with them to find another role is at best an unpleasant task.

Let’s face it, as a leader we always would prefer pleasure to pain. The outlier represents the latter; the 6 actions we discussed will not only make your life easier, they will also allow you to maintain the effectiveness and harmony of your team.

Related: 14 Hazardous Pitfalls To Career Success