Workplace Doctor: Abu Dhabi team member so outspoken that he raises eyebrows

I have a team member who is very outspoken to the point of being inappropriate at times. He always says exactly what he thinks, even during meetings with the senior leadership team. Some of his comments raise eyebrows. Despite his combative style and controversial thinking, no one reprimands him. How can I ensure he toes the company line and keeps his opinions to himself? DO, Abu Dhabi

Some people were taught, while growing up, to speak their mind no matter the situation. Others were taught to keep their opinions to themselves. As we get older and enter the real world, we often unconsciously carry some of those characteristics with us, which we developed at a very early age. Some of these patterns serve us well, yet some of them should have remained in the playground.

In my youth, I was often reprimanded for being “cheeky” and it sometimes got me in trouble at school. As I grew older I learnt how to manage this trait and use it only when appropriate, with the correct audience in the correct context. Yet it is my awareness of this that helps me with the balancing act of remaining positive and light-hearted without becoming the office clown. It seems like your team has inherited that outspoken classmate who was dreaded by every teacher.

Balance is what it comes down to and as a manager it is your responsibility to raise the awareness of your team member of the need to adjust their natural style. Some of us may enjoy speaking our mind, however there is a time and a place for everything and this clearly needs to be conveyed to your colleague. Having a team member who blurts things out without any regard for the audience can be quite tough. It means you are constantly on edge, wondering what he will say next. However, you need to remember that this person is part of your team and his behaviour reflects on you and on others. Therefore, you have every right to try to manage his outbursts and show him the appropriate way to communicate in a professional setting.

Addressing someone with a combative or confrontational style like this can require you to be assertive in your own approach and clear and concise with your feedback. Set up a feedback session with this disruptive team member. Arrange for the meeting to be in a private room. It’s important that you feel and appear fully in control of the situation and explain the situation in a fair yet firm manner. Don’t give him the audience he desires or you may bring out the challenging schoolchild in him.

I always encourage managers to focus on the facts and not to make it personal. Do not make it about the individual, as their outspoken and imaginative style may have some benefits and is also most probably an ingrained part of their character. No conversation is ever successful once it becomes about the person as, naturally, defences go up. If there are benefits of this style then use these to balance out the more critical feedback. For example, controversial or out-of-the-box thinking often is what sparks new ideas or innovations. Just make it clear that saying exactly what he thinks in meetings is not the right way to go.

For an extroverted individual like this, this behaviour is ­usually due to a lack of ­awareness rather than simply a lack of concern. I have met many outgoing outspoken individuals who are very conscious of how they are viewed by those around them, especially senior leadership. You may make some progress by drawing their attention to the effect that their outspoken behaviour has on their personal credibility in the organisation. If you have examples or comments made by the senior management team, it will help the message land. Remember to handle this conversation sensitively. You do not want to leave him ­thinking that you and the organisation only appreciate those who silently nod and agree.

Doctor’s prescription:

Speaking your mind can be very powerful in organisations as many simply follow like sheep. However, when it becomes inappropriate and confrontational, then someone needs to speak his or her mind to this individual. Otherwise you and the rest of the team will continue to feel the knock-on effect of this individual’s bullish style. Raise his awareness so others can stop raising their eyebrows.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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