Do you have an employee that is, technically speaking, extremely competent but who makes it so hard for everyone around to work with him?

He is brilliant. He can solve any problem a lot faster and providing better quality than the average of his colleagues, if not better than anyone else.

But when it comes to teamwork and collaboration no one stands by his side. Colleagues prefer to get sick than expending time with him at any other meeting.

And he thrives as a lonely raider. He not only prefers working alone but makes things up to make it happen.

What are your options?

You have already tried talking to him, coaching him, and giving him the feedback that things won’t get far this way.

Maybe you have already given him an ultimatum. One date by when his colleagues should better evaluate him as a “good fit for the team” or… you know what.

But nothing has worked out. If any, things got worse than before because he now is suspicious and acts defensively.

At the moment, you are facing the exhausting decision of letting him go. It is a pity because he is a good technical employee and finding someone else with the same experience is very hard, slow, and expensive. 

If he would only be able to collaborate a little bit more!

I see two problems here.

The first problem is that you can’t be, at the same time, the one who will save or sentence him to death.

Why not?

Because he won’t be able to trust you. At max, he would try to please you, but it won’t be honest and genuine. You will notice it, and he will notice it too.

The second problem is that you are addressing the symptoms, not getting any close to the real root causes.

You think that he is the problem. The truth is that he has a problem. 

The worst an employee behaves the more afraid he is.

And by worst I mean a number of things. Being aggressive, intimidating colleagues, giving orders, not accepting others’ solutions and ideas, creating drama, etc. 

But also passive-aggressively procrastinating, avoiding conflicts, hiding behind his computer screen, silently not collaborating, etc.

What is really going on is that your employee is just protecting himself.

He doesn’t even know, but his psychological self-defense mechanisms are working really hard to keep him safe. The more you threaten him the harder they work and the more self-destructive his behavior will be.

It looks like he is the one attacking everyone else and that is, in fact, true. But unconsciously, he feels attacked, and he is using an attack as a well-proven self-defense strategy.

What is happening in your employee’s mind, and yours’ as well, is that you both are being ruled by your inner self-saboteurs.

What are the inner self-saboteurs?

The inner self-saboteurs, or just the saboteurs, are those voices in our minds that try to protect us. That pushes us to work very hard, to be right, to avoid conflicts, whatever it takes, to not fail, to fit in, to be accepted, to win.

The saboteurs are self-defense strategies that we all developed early in childhood. Nowadays, we have repeated the same strategy so many times that they have become our by-default reaction.

We are flying in autopilot and the saboteurs are fooling us without having any idea.

For some of us, as we became adults, we managed to let them go, at least to some extent. For others, as these strategies worked very well during childhood, we still rely on them more often than not.

The saboteurs are so scared of failing and losing control that they will convince us to do anything just to stay safe. And they will ignore any consequences.

The big problem with the saboteurs is that they manipulate us to fall into self-destructive strategies. Strategies that, like in this case, will lead us to lose our job.

The massive impact of the self-saboteurs

Coming back to your employee, he behaves the way he does, as I said, just to protect him. It works basically like this.

Your employee faces a challenging situation, for instance, receiving some feedback. He gets the message that his behavior is not very collaborative.

His master saboteur, the Judge, gets triggered. The Judge is that voice that judges ourselves, others, and our circumstances in order to protect us.

The last thing the Judge will allow your employee to do is failing. He will push your employee to do anything in order to avoid failure. Receiving negative feedback is perceived as a failure to himself and the Judge will never allow that to happen.

To avoid failing the Judge will trigger one of the nine accomplice saboteurs. 

One common saboteur amongst technical people is the Hyper-Rational saboteur. The one that rationalizes everything, including feelings and relationships. This saboteur will offer a logical explanation that could be proved with facts and figures.

And he will be right. He will offer a logical explanation backed up by real data. The problem is that the impact on the person giving the feedback will be “You aren’t even listening to me!”.

This impact will trigger the Judge saboteur on the person providing the feedback, which will trigger one of the nine accomplice saboteurs, for instance, the Avoider. 

The Avoider will avoid the conflict because he won’t be able to see anything good coming out of the conversation. And that is true, probably nothing good would be able to happen because it would be a conversation between saboteurs, not people.

But what is avoided always comes back, in a bigger size, and eventually, the employee will be fired, even if, during the conversation, it looked like he was right and he won. There wasn’t any victory there, just silence.

How can you weaken the Saboteurs?

The truth is that inner self-saboteurs is a universal phenomenon. We all suffer them and we all fall into them from time to time to some extent. But it is under some circumstances and combinations that they become clearly visible and have a massive strike on us and our colleagues.

Now you are considering firing your employee. It could work in the short term, but firing your employee is just one form of procrastination and problem avoidance.


Because if you don’t learn how to deal with the self-saboteurs, it won’t take long until you will be in the same situation again and another highly-skilled employee will be fired as well.

Is it the first time that something similar has happened to you? Do you think it would be the last one?

You can keep your fingers crossed in the employee-hiring lottery and hope that the next employee you will hire will be effective, collaborative, friendly, and some sort of a pink unicorn. Otherwise, you can always fire him.

But there is another option.

Understand what the inner self-saboteurs are, discover how they work and how they impact your organization so you can support your employees to get rid of them once and for all.