Working with Difficult Band Members

It’s a fact of life that some people suck.

Ergh, don't some people just drive you CRAZY!?

Now, I pride myself on being able to get along with a variety of people from diverse backgrounds. Tolerance and diversity have always been top priorities for me, but sometimes I meet one of those rare people that I just do not mesh well with at all! If I met this person on the street, I’d probably just keep walking. We would ignore each other and go about our merry lives with little impact on each other. Unfortunately, in marching band and concert bands, difficult people don’t just disappear… you might be stuck with them for the entire semester or several years.

Don’t fear! Conflict isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Many great advances arose from a hotly contested debate, an argument, or a controversial viewpoint. This conflict is an opportunity for personal growth and development within your band.

What do you do when you have to work with a difficult person? Your duet partner has a superiority complex. Your stand-mate only wants to do things his way. The trombonist behind you keeps hitting you in the head with his slide (…it’s awful. I speak from personal experience.)

  1. Don’t lose your cool. As frustrated as you may be, getting upset won’t help you. You’re likely to just give the other person even more reason to not want to collaborate with you. Being calm not only helps you to behave more rationally, you also appear more collected, rational, and respectable. Most people find it difficult to cooperate with someone who is angry. If you’re having difficulty remaining calm, take some time away from the situation.
  2. Understand their perspective. Most people are rational. They approach situations from their viewpoint which formed from years of experience. As much as we’d like to exclaim, “I CAN’T HELP IT!! SHE’S CRAZY AS A RACOON!!”, there’s a really good chance that she’s not crazy. Take the time to talk with the other person and listen to their perspective. REALLY listen. Ask questions and try to fully comprehend the other individual’s perspective. Even if you don’t have the time to completely understand their perspective, make sure you at least respect that they have valid reasons for feeling the way they do. Hopefully, you’ll be dealing with someone who wants to understand your perspective too.
  3. Appeal to their goals or emotions. Motivating a peer can be very different from motivating a group you lead, but many of the underlying principles are similar. It’s easier to cooperate with someone when they want to work with you. Everyone has goals that they want to achieve (even if they don’t know them explicitly), and showing someone how working with you will help them achieve their goals is a very effective way to motivate them to be more cooperative. Talk about any of the goals you have in common with the person–putting on a great performance, learning a piece of music you’re both assigned, etc.–and come up with a plan to work together to reach those goals. Be ready to give and take.
  4. Escalate to a superior. If you are really unable to foster cooperation with someone, it’s time to take things to the next level. This final technique can sometimes backfire, so make sure you’ve exhausted your other options. Nonetheless, sometimes you just have to do what must be done. First, tell the other person that you’d like to get help working through your disagreements. Start at the bottom of the chain and work your way up. If you’re in the same section, engage your section leader. If you’re in different sections, engage both of your section leaders. If they can’t help you resolve it, approach a higher-up student leader (perhaps a drum major or the like), and finally approach your director. It’ll help you in the long run if you can say you’ve exhausted all your options before taking things to the next level. Remain respectful to all the involved parties, and be ready that people might not take your side of the disagreement.
It is important to realize that you will not always be successful at resolving your differences with people. It’s a very tough thing to do, and you only get better at resolving conflicts through experience. How do you work with difficult people? Let us know in the comments!