Confronting Troublesome Employee Behavior

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Is a troublesome or temperamental worker causing problems for you and your other employees? Difficult as it may sound, you must confront the problem if you don’t want workplace morale to suffer because of one person. Here’s what to do: 

  • Select a suitable time and a private place to talk. It is never a wise decision to confront a troublesome employee in the presence of his or her co-workers. Public confrontation can lead to anger and resentment on the part of the challenged employee and anxiety and embarrassment on the part of onlookers. 
  • Describe the behavior in need of improvement. No one can change behavior without knowing what’s needed. Be as specific and objective as possible, using real-life examples. “At the meeting this morning, I saw you interrupt other employees several times before they had a chance to completely present their ideas. Your interruptions were really frustrating because they prevented us from getting a balanced perspective on the project.” 
  • Listen to the person. Problems outside the office could be affecting his or her behavior. Or perhaps the worker believes certain behavior is appropriate when, in fact, it is not. Pay attention to the worker’s response and feelings. 
  • Explain how improvement will help the worker’s career. People are more willing to listen to constructive criticism if they perceive a direct benefit. Place your comments in a career development context. 
  • Set realistic goals. Small changes in behavior can represent big victories. If someone dominates meetings, for example, don’t expect him or her to remain silent, but work on limiting interruptions and listening to other people. 
  • Follow up and offer feedback. Don’t let the person slip back into bad habits after a week or so. Keep the person on track, offering feedback and additional training if necessary.

When should one confront a problem employee about his or her unacceptable behavior? In general, the earlier the better. Discussing the problem before the behavior becomes well established prevents confusion and the appearance of inconsistency. If you find yourself thinking about the problem outside work, the time has come to act.