Imagine you have a team member, let’s call him Rob.  He’s worked for your organization for years and knows your business inside out. At the same time, he has some rough edges. He has a short temper. If something doesn’t go his way, he can go from zero to ten in a matter of seconds.

In a meeting, if someone questions Rob’s authority or his numbers, he’s likely to light into them. Everyone is so taken aback by his attack, they don’t know what to say. And they don’t want to make things worse, so often they don’t say anything.

Suddenly it 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 member on your team or in your organization you’re afraid to confront because you don’t want to escalate the already high stress in the room? Perhaps you fear 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 this.  If you don’t, Rob’s behavior will get worse because no one is holding him accountable.  

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

That’s not just my professional experience and opinion. 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   

My advice? Intervene Early and Firmly.

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

Here are 5 steps you can take to proactively address unacceptable behavior.

1. Meet with Rob Privately – “Rob, you’ve been with the company for many years and we value your expertise. And at the same time, I have received several complaints about your volatility during meetings. As your boss, it’s important that you know your behavior is negatively impacting your coworkers and it needs to change.”

2. Describe the Negative Perceptions with Specifics – “I observed you yelling during this week’s staff meeting and heard from several employees they felt disrespected by how you treated them.”  Please note: you don’t have to identify who reported the unacceptable behavior to you. The focus is on what Rob is doing, not “who tattled.”

3. Set Limits and Consequences – “Starting as of today, you need to lower your voice and adopt a more respectful tone when speaking to your colleagues.” 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.

4. Offer Help – “Rob, if you would like to work with a coach or mentor, that can be arranged as part of your employee benefits. And it would show you’re serious about this and demonstrate good faith that you’re committed to improving in this area.”

5. Monitor for Change – Some managers believe since they addressed the problem, the issue is over.  To the contrary. It’s crucial to schedule a follow up meeting where this behavior will be reviewed to let Rob know that this isn’t just “going to go away” and there is a meeting on the calendar where he will be held accountable for improving his behavior.

As a workplace consultant and a long-time family therapist, I’ve found that some managers overlook behavior like Rob’s because they’re afraid of losing industry expertise and/or client base of long-time employees.

What they’re overlooking is the considerable 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.

I have also had clients tell me they’re “looking the other way” because “Rob” is going through a rough time in his personal life. Whether it’s a health challenge, a divorce, or a problem with a family member, please be aware that ignoring unacceptable behavior sets a dangerous precedence.

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

Workplace Conflict Expert Bonnie Artman Fox, MS, LMFT, works with executive leaders and team managers who want to stop divisive behaviors, resolve conflict, and build the team trust needed to create a healthy work culture.  Contact Bonnie to help your employees get along and bring teams together.

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