No matter how long you’ve been an active member of the workforce, or how many jobs are on your resume it is always a challenge handling confrontational employees. The effect that workplace friction has on all your team is far-reaching and can impact long-term on employee morale.
As with all workplace wellbeing issues, dealing with difficult co-workers needs to be dealt with sensitively. Read on to discover some top tips for handling confrontational employees.
Focus on the behavior rather than the person
Confrontational people are quite likely to become defensive when challenged about the way they are acting. You can mitigate this by making sure you communicate without judgment and focus on describing the problematic situation(s) to the employee rather than the behavior they are exhibiting.
We aren’t always fully aware of the way our behaviors impact on others, or even that we are doing anything wrong. Approach the situation with the belief that your employee isn’t acting out of malice and that their intentions are mainly good, regardless of what the actual outcome was. No matter what your position is in the company it is not your place to judge others. It is your job to understand employee’s motivations, hear everyone’s side, iron out any problems and identify and implement solutions.
Before you approach the person, write down details of the instances where their behavior has been confrontational to get the events clear in your mind. When you speak to them, outline the situations in detail explaining what the impacts were on other people in the office. Reassure them that you know they weren’t meaning to be difficult but explain how the negative behavior made others feel.
Put yourself in their shoes
Put yourself in the position of the confrontational person and try to understand what made them act that way. Each one of us has a life outside of the office and you may not be aware when colleagues are dealing with difficult situations such as relationship problems, money worries or issues that are happening at work. Taking time to understand the full story and the reasons behind a change in behavior will help you get to the root of the problem. Of course, the negative situations could be part of an ongoing problem, too. Both situations will require a sensitive confidential discussion with the employee including some gentle probing into the causes as well as assurance about your company’s commitment to supporting colleagues during tough times.
If relevant, you should also consider your role, or management’s role in the problem. Is the person’s workload impacting on their wellbeing? Are there other tensions in the team that need addressing?
Create a safe space for discussions
One of the most important parts of handling confrontational employees is ensuring they know there is a safe space for discussions; a place where they can freely share concerns and give feedback. Dealing with any contentious issues is much easier if you promote a culture of wellbeing, transparency and openness in the workplace. If you think you need to improve in this area, now is the time to do so.
When approaching the employee, make sure they know that they can be honest without fear of reprisal or judgment. You simply want to get to the bottom of the cause for the negative behavior and find solutions. If appropriate and welcomed by the individual, it could be a good idea to have a representative from your personnel department present or another trusted colleague. They can help document the meeting and may also be better placed to offer advice on support, should the colleague want it.
Give clear directions for moving forward
While you want to make sure your colleague is seen, heard and supported you also need to maintain a working environment where all your team feel safe and know you have their best interests at heart. Developing a strategy for dealing with the situation and giving clear directions for moving forward will create stability and security for your wider team. It will also provide the confrontational colleague with a roadmap, rules and the information necessary to improve their behavior. It will also help them understand the impact that confrontation has on others.
Encourage the colleague to lower their defenses and accept that their actions have consequences. Encourage them to own their role in the situation and accept the need to adapt their behavior. Always share concrete examples with them and make sure they don’t feel like everyone has been badmouthing them behind their back. Document what is expected of them going forward and introduce timelines or suggest times to meet up for further discussions if appropriate. Monitor progress with relevant people in the business including the person’s supervisor.
What to do if the behavior continues
There’s no easy answer to this. The outcomes, if the confrontational employee does not adapt or improve their behavior, will depend on the contexts behind it and the seriousness of the situation. If the situation is clear-cut, i.e they refuse to recognize they are exhibiting inappropriate behavior then it is probably time to let them go. Speak to your personnel department and legal team if needed and always follow the appropriate routes.
The fact that you are reading this article suggests you are a manager or business leader that cares about their employees and that wants to promote a healthy and happy workplace culture. You can’t resolve every situation but you can make sure all employees are heard and that your business is a safe place for all that work there. Good luck and let us know how you get on.
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