If you've been a manager
for long, you know that things can go wrong even in the
best of organizations. Problem behavior on the part of
employees can erupt for a variety of reasons. Here are
ten tips for dealing with it.
Recognize that problem behavior usually has a history.
It usually develops over
time and seldom from a single incident. As a manager, it
is your responsibility to be alert to the early warning
signs and deal with the underlying causes before the
situation reaches a crisis.
yourself: "Am I partly or wholly responsible?"
You would be surprised
how frequently it is the manager who has created, or at
least contributed to problems of employee behavior.
Having an abrasive style, being unwilling to listen, and
being inattentive to the nuances of employee behavior
are all factors that contribute to the manager's need to
thoroughly examine what is going on.
focus only on the overt behavior.
When confronted by an
angry employee, it's easy to attack the person and
target the behavior rather than examine the factors that
underlie the behavior. Often, this takes patience,
careful probing, and a willingness to forgo judgment
until you really understand the situation.
attentive to the "awkward silence" and to what may be
When an employee is
obviously reluctant to communicate, it's almost a sure
sign that more lurks beneath the surface. Often,
employees will withhold because they feel unsafe. They
may test the waters by airing a less severe or kindred
issue in order to see what kind of a response they get.
In order to get the full story and encourage
forthrightness, it's imperative that the manager read
between the lines and offer the concern and support
necessary to get the employee to open up.
before your confront.
Chances are, when an
issue first surfaces, you will be given only a
fragmentary and partial picture of the problem. You may
have to dig deep to surface important facts, and talk to
others who may be involved. One safe assumption is that
each person will tend to present the case from his or
her viewpoint, which may or may not be the way it really
is. Discretion and careful fact-finding are often
required to get a true picture.
willing to explore the possibility that you have
contributed to the problem.
This isn't easy, even if
you have reason to believe it's so, because you may not
be fully aware of what you have done to fuel the fire.
Three helpful questions to ask yourself: "Is this
problem unique, or does it have a familiar ring as
having happened before?", "Are others in my organization
exhibiting similar behaviors?", and finally, "Am I
partially the cause of the behavior I am criticizing in
Start by defining, for
yourself, what changes you would like to see take place,
Then, follow this sequence: (1) Tell the person that
there is a problem. State the problem as you understand
it and explain why it is important that it be resolved;
(2) Gain agreement that you've defined the problem
correctly, and that the employee understands that it
must be solved; (3) Ask for solutions, using open-ended
questions such as: "What are you willing to do to
correct this problem?" In some cases, you may have to
make it clear what you expect; (4) Get a commitment that
the employee will take the required actions; (5) Set
deadlines for completing the actions. In the case of a
repeated problem, you may want to advise the employee of
the consequences of failing to take corrective action;
(6) Follow up on the deadlines you've set.
the employee as an adult and expect adult behavior.
To some extent,
expectation defines the result. If you indicate, by your
actions or by the content or tone of your voice, that
you expect less than full adult behavior, that's what
you're likely to get.
interpersonal conflicts differently.
If the problem behavior
stems from a personality conflict between two employees,
have each one answer these questions: (1) How would you
describe the other person?; (2) How does he or she make
you feel?; (3) Why do you feel that the other person
behaves the way he/she does?; (4) What might you be able
to do to alleviate the situation?; (5) What would you
like the other person to do in return?.
agreement regarding steps to be taken and results
Nothing is really "fixed"
unless it stays fixed. All parties to a dispute must
agree that the steps taken (or proposed) will
substantially alleviate the problem. Further, they must
agree on what they will do IF the results attained are
not as anticipated. This can be achieved by doing a
simple role play, i.e., having each side (including your
own) articulate the steps to be taken and the outcomes
anticipated. That way, even if subsequent events are
significantly different than expected, the lines of
communication for adjusting the situation are opened.