Abrasive behavior

Does your Staff Meeting Remind you of a Tense Holiday Meal?

Imagine you have a high-performing team member, let’s call him Rob.  He’s worked for your organization for years and knows your business inside out.

While Rob is one of your most valued employees from a performance perspective, he has some rough edges in how he treats people.

When projects don’t go as planned, his temper goes from zero to ten in a matter of seconds.

In a staff meeting, if someone asks a question that Rob perceives as undermining his expertise, he’s quick to react with sarcasm or a condescending comment. Everyone is so taken aback by his sharp tone and temper that the conversation stops, including ideas to move the project along.

Does your Staff Meeting Remind you of a Tense Holiday Meal?

Suddenly, your staff meeting feels like a holiday dinner around your family dinner table when your crazy uncle makes an inappropriate comment and no one knows how to respond.

The awkward moments of silence are finally broken when someone jokes “Well, that’s just how Uncle Clyde is”, while others quickly pile mashed potatoes into their mouths.

However, back at work, this team meeting isn’t a family dinner. This is a professional setting and you’re in charge.

Have you ever experienced something like this?

Do you have a high-performing employee in your organization you’re afraid to confront because you’re worried about how they’ll react?  

Perhaps you fear your Rob might turn on you in front of the team? Even though you’re the leader, you don’t know what to say so you don’t say anything.

The thing is, you are the leader and it’s your responsibility to deal with Rob’s abrasive behavior.  If you don’t, Rob’s behavior will continue because no one is holding him accountable.  

Sadly, emotional outbursts from employees like Rob happen frequently and have a  damaging effect on employee performance, productivity, and morale.

According to employee polls by Christine Porath and Christine Pearson (2013):

  • 98% of workers have reported experiencing uncivil behavior.
  • 48% of employees have intentionally decreased their work effort as a result.
  • 66% of employees said their performance declined as a result of being targeted by uncivil behavior.

Intervene Early, Clearly, and Firmly

If you are a senior leader, business owner, or project manager, it’s your responsibility to intervene and address Rob’s abrasive behavior.

Follow these 5 steps to address abrasive behavior

  1. Meet with Rob Privately and Start on the Positive.

“Rob, you’ve been with the company for many years and I’ve always been impressed by your expertise.  I want to have a conversation about your behavior lately and some areas I think you can improve.”

  1. Describe the Negative Perceptions with Specifics.

“I observed you yelling during this week’s staff meeting. Lately, I’ve noticed you seem more on edge and it shows up in you being more abrupt and sharp in your tone.  When you treat people disrespectfully, it’s impacting how you’re perceived and people not wanting to work with you.”  

  1. Set Limits and Expect Pushback.

“Starting today, I want you to be treat people with respect. From your tone of voice to managing your anger and patience when people ask questions you think they should know the answer to.   

Most likely, Rob will be defensive and rationalize that he was “just upset about something that had gone wrong” and didn’t mean it.  He may even blame someone else for making a “stupid mistake.” Don’t take the bait, move on to step four.

  1. Clearly Convey the Expectation for Improvement.

“I’m confident you’ll be able to improve before the behavior becomes a pattern.”

  1. Monitor for Change.

“We’ll meet again next week, same time  to see how things are going.”

Some managers believe since they addressed the problem, the issue is over.  

To the contrary. It’s crucial to schedule a follow up meeting so Rob knows his behavior will be monitored and he is being held accountable for improving how he treats people.

Take Action Sooner Vs. Later

As an Accredited Boss Whisperer®, I’ve found that leaders often avoid addressing abrasive behavior like Rob’s because they’re afraid of losing industry expertise, and/or client base of long-time employees, and/or they don’t know what to say.

If you can relate, consider psychological and financial costs associated with ignoring Rob’s behavior. This can include everything from increased employee turnover to reduced performance, productivity, and ultimately profits.

If you have a Rob on your team, take action. Your other employees will thank you. They’re looking to you for leadership – and that means proactively addressing any situation that is negatively impacting the group as a whole.

While you can’t stop Uncle Clyde’s inappropriate behavior at the Thanksgiving holiday meal or Rob’s abrasive behavior, you can change how you respond.

Schedule a complimentary 30-minute Strategy call to get prepared with what to say and the confidence to have a conversation with your Rob to protect the health of your company culture.

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.

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