Self-awareness, abrasive behavior

An Uncommon Yet Effective Approach to Address Abrasive Behavior

Casey is preparing for a conversation he’d rather avoid. 

He’s about to meet with one of his top-performing managers who is a consistent high revenue generator for the company. The manager has been with the company for almost fifteen years and is widely respected for her expertise in their industry.   

The conversation isn’t about the manager’s performance, it’s about her behavior. Specifically, abrasive behavior.

Casey has received a series of complaints from employees about how this manager treats employees. From yelling and anger outbursts when projects aren’t done as quickly as she thinks they should be,  to condescending comments like, “That’s a stupid idea”.  Even name calling is involved. This manager is exhibiting what we consider abrasive behavior. .

While Casey has addressed this behavior before,  the yelling, micromanaging, and  public humiliation of employees has returned. 

Several of Casey’s valued employees are headed for the door if he doesn’t  don’t do something.

Confronting abrasive behavior is easier said than done

Casey knows he needs to take action. But truth be told, he’s afraid. He recognizes that confronting a high-performing revenue generator is easier said than done for several reasons.

He’s caught between the risk of losing the revenue the manager brings in, as well as her expertise, and the risk of losing valued employees when good employees are hard to find and retain. 

Further, he’s concerned the manager will retaliate in some way. 

And, oh yay – there’s also the risk of a PR disaster or a lawsuit!

Can you relate to Casey?

Do you have a high-performing employee who exhibits abrasive behaviors that are affecting your employee retention?

If so, you know you need to intervene but you aren’t sure what to say.

That’s where Heroic Empathy comes in. 

Heroic Empathy is the balance of caring about your employee as a person while at the same setting boundaries that inspire transformation so they can become a better version of themselves.

Using the Acronym for the word H.E.R.O.I.C., the following framework provides examples of uncommon phrases to guide you in addressing abrasive behavior with Heroic Empathy. 

H – Humanity: Start out the conversation conveying you care about the manager as a person, not just as an employee.

  • Thanks for speaking with me today.
  • How are you doing?

E –  Empathy: Affirm the manager’s strengths and positive qualities.

  • I appreciate your commitment to the company. You are one of our top-performers.
  • The intent of this conversation is to help you to continue to succeed.

R – Reality: Present reality about the impact of the manager’s behavior and the expectation to turn around abrasive behaviors.

  • We’re meeting today because I’ve continued to get a series of complaints about the way you’re treating employees. We’ve spoken about this before. Things get better for a while, then gradually {name the behaviors, i.e. yelling, name-calling, explosive outbursts} return.
  • This has nothing to do with your performance. How you treat people  needs to change.

O – Opportunity to improve: Extend the invitation for the manager to participate in coaching to turnaround abrasive behavior.  

  • We want to offer you help.
  • We have a coach we want you to work with. This coach specializes in helping leaders replace abrasive behaviors with emotional intelligence skills.

I –  Integrity: Appeal to the reality that all of us have things to work on. Be willing to share ways you’ve working on your own leadership development.

  • I’ve received leadership coaching about areas that were blind spots for me.
  • I’ve gained self-awareness that has helped me improve my leadership and helped me excel in my career, that’s what I want for you. 

C – Choice to Change: It’s ultimately up to your manager to change. At this point, you’re leaving the choice to them while letting them know something will happen if the abrasive behaviors continue.

You are giving the choice to receive help to prevent that “something” from happening.

  • I care about you and want to help you be successful.
  • The way you’re treating people is negatively impacting how people perceive you, as well as employee morale. You’re valuable to the team and we want to help you if you’re willing. It’s up to you.

Transforming abrasive behavior is possible. It starts with you as a leader intervening with both empathy and clear boundaries that create the conditions for employees to become a better version of themselves.

Learning how to communicate with H.E.R.O.I.C. Empathy takes practice.  While there is no guarantee that the employee’s abrasive behavior will change, this uncommon yet effective approach will leave a lasting impression with your employee of how you showed you cared while setting clear expectations of changed behavior. 

You are the guide and they become the hero that has the courage to change. 

When leaders address abrasive behavior with H.E.R.O.I.C.  Empathy, employees are inspired to become better versions of themselves.

P.S. Register here for my virtual program on October 25th Addressing Abrasive Behaviors with your Top Performers Sooner vs. Later where you’ll learn how to create a quick turnaround of abrasive behavior that can make a world of difference in your company culture and bottom-line results.


About the author 

Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT works with executive leaders who want to gain self-awareness about the impact of their words and actions and up-level their interpersonal skills. 

Drawing from decades as a psychiatric nurse and licensed family therapist, Bonnie brings a unique perspective to equip executive leaders with the roadmap to emotional intelligence that brings teams together. 

Bonnie’s leadership Turnaround coaching program has an 82% success rate in guiding leaders to replace abrasive behavior with tact, empathy, and consideration of others. The end result is a happy, healthy, and profitable workplace…sooner vs. later.

Leave a Comment