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Yacht Crew

The bad apple syndrome…

How to work with difficult crew.

The bad apple syndrome

As individuals, we are subject to various influences that impact our values, our belief systems and how we perceive ourselves and others. So, it isn’t surprising that we may have opposing or contrasting views to others. Having contesting views should actually be celebrated especially onboard as it promotes creative problem-solving. However, where having a difference in opinion can go wrong is if our views are not communicated in a respectful manner or if we are not willing to listen to others.  When individuals cannot meet these objectives they are likely to be labelled as “difficult”

Working and living onboard can have their advantages and disadvantages.  Conflict can sometimes be exacerbated due to the fact that it is not sustainable to avoid the conflict or at least be in a position to go home at the end of the day to gain some personal space. When harmonious working relationships exist onboard it can dramatically influence Crew retention as well as productivity, morale and psychological wellbeing.

The varying personalities, cultures and nationalities onboard require Crew to have a fundamental understanding of human behaviour starting off with an understanding of self-leadership. Leadership is not attached to rank, management is. This means that all Crew no matter what title they have can be leaders. In The Crew Coach Advanced Leadership Course the students spend 3 months mastering the art of leadership so that they can not only become 21st century leaders but add value to their team through a comprehensive set of leadership skills.

In a senior role, you need to be prepared to deal with more complex issues ranging from mental bullying, demeaning remarks, sexist views, the sabotaging of boat property, abrasive social interactions to toxic crew dynamics.

It’s HODs responsibility to effectively manage difficult crew members to ensure crew retention and a onboard positive culture; this can be easier said than done. All problems should be dealt with professionally, with an open mind and focusing on constructive feedback and ultimately a positive outcome.

In a recent online survey conducted by The Crew Coach on this topic, many Crew requested for strategies in dealing with difficult crew. These requests generally stemmed from how to effectively deal with them, how to rebuild fractured relationships, how to re-engage Crew who do not want to communicate..

Below I have highlighted a number of strategies that can better equip you in dealing with and avoiding difficult workin relationships.

Yacht Crew

Coping strategies 

Do’s & Dont’s

It is vital to have clear and concise Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) onboard; this instils what is and isn’t acceptable behaviour onboard to all crew. When dealing with a problematic crew member it is essential to focus on specific behaviour rather on than personality traits. Sometimes people aren’t always aware of how their behaviour impacts their environment so it is up to you to raise awareness sensitively. When Crew are failing to adhere to the onboard policies and procedures guide them back to the expected guideline of behaviours and reiterate what is acceptable  and not acceptable behaviour. Provide the Crew an opportunity to expand on the reasons for their poor choices and what changes you would like to see from them moving forward.

Promote a positive culture 

Encourage a positive culture onboard at all times. It is essential to define what the team and vessel’s values are and how you intend to put these values into practice. This also encompasses fostering teamwork and bonding, which helps develop a positive culture. Promoting wellbeing and a culture where everyone is treated with respect and negative behaviour such as bullying and harassment are not tolerated will help mitigate against unhelpful behaviours. It is essential not to let one difficult Crew member disrupt the harmony of your team. To ensure this doesn’t happen, my advice is to keep lines of communication open allowing for 2-way communication.

Get ahead

If you have a problematic crew member onboard, make sure you deal with the issues as early as they arise; otherwise, it will be harder to manage further down the line. These minor problems can escalate quickly if not nipped in the bud. Talking things out is often overlooked as a solution especially when on a Guest trip; however, having a conversation about the issues is likely to lead to a quick resolution. When meeting with the Crew member ensure you do so in a private setting (shaming in public is not ok) You should explain the negative consequences that resulted from their behaviour and have specific examples of what you would prefer to happen.

Be an example

Strong teams have emotionally intelligent leaders that lead by example. Effective HODs show Crew what type of behaviours are appreciated and valued. The saying “do as I say, not as I do” should not have a place within a team. As a leader, you should be competent in handling conflict calmly with the intention of

Listen up

Be sure to show respect and listen to what is being  shared; being an active listener is critical. Conflicts do not end well when each person/persons are competing to get their perspective heard first. Through listening you can identify the cause of the problem a lot sooner.

Dealing with difficult Crew members can be tricky; there are no hard and fast rules when dealing with people; therefore important that you apply the above tips to help you resolve the conflict as effeectively and efficently as possible. Next time a conflict arises embrace it utilising the above conflict resolution strategies. Dealing with problematic Crew improves your communication and leadership skills. The old adage of “those who challenge you the most, can teach you the most” is undoubtedly based on hard-earned experience!

Want to learn how to become a transformational leader and be a part of our bespoke Advanced Leadership Course then get in touch with The Crew Coach at

Karine Rayson