Dealing With Difficult Staff Behaviour – Executive Coach

Risk Manager

It’s probably one of the least favourite tasks for a manager, but not formally ticking off a staff member when they’re out of line will cause the matter to linger, if not worsen.

Disruptive behaviour by an employee, in a meeting for example can annoy or distract other members of staff and affect their performance in the workplace. If it occurs when a client is present, it can impact on their view of the business and possibly lead to losing them as a client.

If disruptive behaviour takes place in the presence of other staff, then it might also influence their view, not only of that person, but perhaps also of you as a manager. Therefore, the longer the problem continues, the worse its potential impact on staff or clients will be.

However, by bearing in mind a few key points, giving negative feedback to staff when and where it is needed, doesn’t have to be such a painful task.

Managers can understandably be afraid of tackling negative issues with their staff. Performance reviews can fail for this reason. Similarly, the way in which negative feedback is given can completely de-motivate the member of staff if it is done incorrectly.

Feedback on an employee’s conduct will be most effective when it is timely, so a manager needs to take them aside and talk to them as soon as possible. Ideally this would be immediately after the behaviour or incident takes place.

When talking to them, you need to be clear and concise, using specific and descriptive words. You should be sure of your facts and have specific examples. Unless you have witnessed the behaviour yourself, avoid references to hearsay. Avoid being emotive, personal or judgemental in your feedback.

Managers should ask questions, rather than launching into criticism that will immediately put a person on the defensive. This means you can corroborate and discuss the incident. This also shows the employee you’re being fair and that he has an opportunity to explain his side of the story.

It is also a good idea to express your disappointment at how the employee’s behaviour affects you, other staff and the company as a whole. As well as this, try offering an alternative type of behaviour that should replace the employee’s undesirable conduct, having clearly described its effects.

Remind the employee that his behaviour is the problem, not him as a person. A more constructive approach to take, is to only give negative feedback after two pieces of positive feedback have first been given. By explaining how they are usually competent in other areas, you can empower an employee to improve their performance after your meeting.

If other staff members exhibit behaviour that requires negative feedback, then you should be consistent and have the same conversation with them, rather than singling out any one member of your staff.

You should not wait until an employee’s annual performance review to address his behaviour. The impact of any behaviour has the potential to worsen the longer it is allowed to continue, and this will have increasing negative consequences for your business.

If anything, a summary of previous discussions – if you feel it is necessary, will be more appropriate and serve as a gentle reminder to an employee.

Most employees will appreciate getting feedback on their performance, even if it is negative, rather than working in a vacuum. When the emphasis is on empowering employees, they can improve their performance and develop their professional and personal relationships individually and as team members.

As with any workplace communication, lines of communication need to be kept open. Employees need to feel they are able to give upward feedback, where they feel it is justified. This builds trust in the workplace that ensures hierarchy doesn’t take precedence over performance and leads to a more meritocratic style of organisation.

If communication is an issue, then measures need to be taken to ensure that managers are not afraid of giving negative feedback and employees are not afraid of it being given constructively.

For example, recent winner of the Irish Independent’s Best 50 Companies to Work For award, renewable energy company Airticity has several initiatives in place to enhance communications. The CEO communicates directly with employees and managers make themselves available to chat with staff over lunch.

Management training is also important in ensuring effective communication. It enables managers to boost their capabilities and develop skills needed to grow their business.

When communication between managers and employees is easier and when managers examine and enhance their capabilities, giving negative feedback might remain one of the least favourite management tasks, but it should be required less often. The overall effect will be good for working relationships and good for your business as well.


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