10 Questions to Move from Avoidance to Intervention

“Depending on who Margie is talking to, she is friendly and helpful. To some of us, she yells and speaks down to us when we ask her a question. Sometimes she even throws darts at the door after people leave her office. From day to day, you never know what kind of mood she will be in. She is excellent at her job, but as co-workers, we avoid her and only interact with her unless it is absolutely necessary. If we do have to talk to her, we brace ourselves for a verbal assault.

When co-workers have gone to their manager with examples of how they are treated by Margie, the manager excuses her behavior by saying “that’s just how Margie is.” The message is just tolerate her behavior. I don’t know if Margie’s manager has ever spoken to her about how she treats people. If he has it hasn’t helped. It seems like his solution was to move her office to a different building where she doesn’t have to see or interact with anyone.”

Avoidance seems easier than Addressing

Lest you are thinking the above is a fable, sadly this is a real life example of an abrasive employee whose behavior has been allowed to continue. It is a sample of many stories I hear from co-workers affected by abrasive behavior in the workplace that is tolerated by managers through avoidance.

Managers are responsible for addressing both employee performance and conduct. While addressing performance is often easier to measure and based on concrete metrics of a job description, employee conduct also needs to be addressed. Avoidance of intervening with unacceptable conduct and behaviors only perpetuates the problem and alienates co-workers and potentially your clients/customers.

Manager self-awareness 

As a manager whose responsibility is to uphold your organizational mission, it is imperative for you to be aware of what is holding you back from setting limits and consequences when unacceptable employee behavior occurs. By answering the below questions, you will gain self-awareness that will assist you in both intervening and following through with consequences if the employee behavior does not change.

1. What are you concerned would happen if you address the behavior of the employee?

2. What would be the worst and best thing that could happen?

3. If the worst thing would happen, how would that affect your other employees? Your organization? Your brand?

4. If the worst thing could happen, could you live through it?

5. How has the employee shown they are making a concerted effort to turnaround their behavior?

6. Perhaps things did get better after you addressed the employee conduct in the past yet gradually the unacceptable conduct has resurfaced. What message would be you giving the employee, other employees, and fellow managers if you don’t follow through on consequences now?

7. How will the culture of your organization be affected by allowing abrasive behavior in terms of employee morale, productivity, turnover, and bottom line results?

8. How was conflict handled in your upbringing that could be impacting how you deal with or avoid conflict today?

9. In what ways does this person present opportunities for your growth to improve your conflict resolution skills?

10. How much do you depend on the employee’s performance (i.e. income generator) that keeps you from intervening?

Leadership responsibility 

As a manager and leader in your organization, it is your responsibility to define and expect acceptable performance and conduct of your employees.

Use your answers to the above questions as a catalyst to work through whatever is holding you back and develop a plan to intervene with employees exhibiting abrasive behavior. While it can be uncomfortable, it is far better to intervene than allow behavior that negatively affects all of your employees and business. The earlier you intervene will minimize the impact of abrasive behavior on your organization and increase your credibility as a leader.

Make the conscious choice to intervene with unacceptable employee conduct and
expect respectful behavior of your employees.

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