HR manager Stephen has heard things aren’t going well in Ron’s team. Conflict is creating a toxic team dynamic. And yet again, Kathy seems to be at the centre of it.   Despite having years of management experience, Ron isn’t managing this situation. He’s avoiding giving feedback to Kathy because he’s reluctant to raise the issue of her inappropriate workplace behaviour. Stephen needs to intervene.

Stephen knows that managers are often reluctant to address the behaviours of highly aggressive staff. It’s quite likely that Ron will expect Stephen to sort out the situation for him. Instead, Stephen plans to teach Ron five key steps for addressing behavioural problems at work.

1. Start with behaviour-based feedback

Change won’t happen until Kathy understands exactly which of her behaviours are unacceptable. Ron needs to start the conversation by giving clear and specific feedback. This has to focus on behaviours, not generalisations. For example, Ron should say ‘When you spoke to Greg about the statistics report yesterday, your voice was loud. You were also speaking very quickly.’ He should NOT say ‘You were really aggressive yesterday.’

2. Allow the staff member to vent

Given her track record, Kathy is unlikely to sit quietly after hearing Ron’s feedback. So he needs to be prepared to handle a rage reaction. If Kathy shouts or makes wild statements, Ron should listen, summarise and ask gentle challenge questions. His aim at this stage is to acknowledge concerns, whilst still holding Kathy accountable for her situation. For example:

Kathy: Greg deserved everything I said. He can’t even get a simple report finished on time. And then I get the blame when the job is late. He’s useless. Who hired him, anyway?

Ron: You’re frustrated about how long it takes to get the report details. How have you tried to sort this out with Greg?

3. Redirect the conversation

It’s vital that Ron remain in control of the direction the conversation takes next. If he pursues Kathy’s claim that Greg is the problem, the discussion will be side-tracked. So Ron needs to redirect with a phrase such as:

  • We’re here to talk about your behaviour yesterday
  • If I need to talk to Greg, I’ll do that separately. For now, we need to discuss the way you were talking yesterday
  • Let’s focus back on the way you spoke to Greg yesterday

4. Set a clear boundary

Ron needs to be very clear about the fact that aggressive behaviour is not acceptable at work. He can use a boundary statement to get this point across. For example:

  • We have clear guidelines about acceptable workplace behaviour, which all staff must adhere to
  • It is not acceptable for anyone on this team to raise their voice when giving feedback to a colleague
  • You are expected to comply with the company’s policy on appropriate workplace behaviour

5. Describe acceptable behaviour in concrete terms

Finally, Ron needs to focus the conversation on the future. At this point, it’s important to explain what acceptable behaviour would look and sound like. Once again, behaviourally based language is a useful tool. For example ‘From now on, when you speak to Greg I’d like to hear you speaking at a normal volume and pace. Let’s talk about how you can do that.’

Using this process won’t necessarily make Ron feel comfortable about addressing Kathy’s behaviour. But it will give him a framework for keeping the discussion on track. With coaching and assistance, he’ll be ready to have the tough conversation himself, instead of passing it on to Stephen.

Do you need to sort out an issue relating to team dynamics? Use my situation analyser questionnaire to diagnose the problem. Then download a free report on how to address it.

Originally published on Difficult People Made Easy.