By Bill Hellkamp
Has Steve really missed another deadline? Did Julie actually talk to a customer like that? What is wrong with Juan today? If you work with other people you will find that sometimes you have to intervene to deal with their negative actions or attitudes. For many of us, confronting others in an effort to correct them is something we hope to avoid. But experience tells us that procrastinating won’t make the issues go away. Rather, they will just get worse. Yet if we handle these situations poorly, they can escalate out of control. So here are some ideas that can help you to deal more effectively with those difficult conversations.
Get control of your emotions – Quite often we find that people won’t deal with a challenging individual or situation until they get angry enough to overcome their own inhibitions. Unfortunately, when these situations are confronted in an emotional manner, they tend to escalate into shouting matches and relationships can get permanently damaged. It is always better to get our own feelings in check before we have the conversation.
Discuss it only with the involved parties – People often want others to validate our concerns so they talk about the situation with others prior to addressing it with the participants. This often backfires as the rumor mill gets going and word gets back to those involved. Take counsel only with those that have a direct bearing on the case at hand and allow all involved to deal with it in confidence.
Deal with the situation privately – If you are challenging the actions of a person or persons, we recommend that you do so privately so as to avoid embarrassing them. In the words of Coach Vince Lombardi, “Praise in public; criticize in private.”
Act sooner rather than later – As with most issues, it is best to deal with them quickly. It will help avoid repetition and escalation. Challenging the behavior as soon as it occurs will also ensure that the offenders can’t deny or obfuscate their involvement.
Talk about specific instances, not general issues – If you are addressing a general pattern of behavior, rather than a one-time incident, you should be documenting each occurrence. Then when you are ready to have a conversation you will be able to cite these incidents as a way of supporting your case. Sometimes it takes this “preponderance of evidence” to convince the parties that the problem is real and serious.
Challenge behaviors, not motivations – It is always chancy when we get into the “why” of a situation. Instead, discuss what happened and how it is affecting the organization. If we get into the motivations of the parties involved we will invariably be accused of bias.
Clearly outline your expectations for future behavior – All too often employees are challenged for their behavior, but leave confused as to what and how they can change. It is imperative that if you are going to start this conversation, you must have a clear path for improvement. After you discuss those expectations, you must be willing to take the time to monitor them and congratulate the individual on any positive movement in that direction.