Gossipers, Stinkers and Spandex… Dealing with Bad Workplace Behaviour

As managers we are asked to deal with difficult issues every day.  Few are more challenging or confronting than having to approach a member of your team on the subject of unacceptable behaviour. Today’s Karen Gately blog looks at a range of ‘difficult to deal with’ situations to manage in the workplace.

Do any of these situations ring a bell? Have you had to deal with any of these common situations?

  • The person who is constantly gossiping and “backstabbing”
  • The one who views lycra/spandex/”insert other offensive 1980’s fabric here” as being acceptable attire in the workplace
  • Those who get the job done but do it in a way that upsets everyone else
  • The one who insists on cooking stinky food in the communal microwave despite the loud protests of other people

While these scenarios (and many others like them) can be difficult and uncomfortable, as managers it is our job to deal with them.   The poorly behaving team member deserves to be told the truth about the impact they are having on others, and the rest of the team need you to step in and change the situation.

The first step is to commit to addressing the issue. Determine who is the best person to deal with it – this may be you, but also consider if there is someone else who may be more appropriate.  Never step back from dealing with issues that are your responsibility, but depending on the nature and sensitivity of the issue, there may well be someone else who is better placed to handle it. No matter how frustrated, annoyed or drained you may feel about the issue or having to deal with it, remember that assertiveness is the middle ground between aggression and passivity.  Neither bullying tactics nor impassiveness will help you to resolve the issue -indeed they could result in damaged relationships and a loss of control.

Be well prepared for the conversation you need to have – reflect on what may be causing  the issue and make sure you understand the specific impacts that the behaviour is having on others or the organisation as  a whole.  Understand the sensitivity of the issue and plan what it is you intend to say. Consider the impact of your timing and the setting of the conversation; unless your immediate intervention is in the interest of the health and safety of the person or others around them it is not appropriate to have a conversation in an open plan office or coffee shop where others may overhear. Discretion is key! May sure you are in the right head space – when you are angry and about to “lose it” is NOT the best time to approach the issue. Get your point across, but make sure it’s delivered in a respectful manner – ensure you are fair, listen to their point of view and avoid judgement or blame. Critically, be sensitive – the individual may be completely unaware that there is a problem and could find the feedback upsetting and even embarrassing. Telling them that “everyone knows” is unhelpful. Avoid emotive language such as “It’s not just me, everyone agrees” or “I’ve had heaps of complaints about this” and importantly, avoid projecting an ‘attitude’, such as:

  • “I shouldn’t have to tell you…” – Perhaps, but clearly you do have to tell them – so get past it
  • “You should know better” – According to who? Maybe they genuinely don’t know, or don’t understand the impact of their behaviour
  • “This isn’t my job” – Actually it is. Creating a positive and productive workplace by influencing behaviour is every manager’s job.
  • “I have no idea what your problem is” – Never be dismissive, it helps no-one.

Be clear – explain the impacts and consequences of their behaviour and ensure that they understand them. Offer support, guidance and where possible, suggested solutions. Agree to a strategy – depending on the issue, this may not always be necessary or appropriate but wherever possible determine the best course of action in conjunction with the individual. Ensure that your action plan is being followed. Observe discretely and follow-up swiftly when needed. Finally, be mindful that people rarely behave badly or inappropriately on purpose… and for this reason I urge you to be sensitive, compassionate and respectful when dealing with bad behaviour.

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2 thoughts on “Gossipers, Stinkers and Spandex… Dealing with Bad Workplace Behaviour

  1. Sorry, but a good performance manager should not “suggest solutions”, this assumes responsibility for the “issue” and if the “report” doesn’t take ownership or doesn’t have the skills to implement the “suggested solution” then, when it fails, it’s because it was the managers idea…the perfect “out” for recalcitrant team members. The best managers will drive their report to generate their own solution and gain agreement on timing and implementation, pity there isn’t more of them around! 🙂

  2. Another key point is to check with your Human Resources department (if you have one!) from a legal perspective what is required from you as a manager should the issue escalate.
    Documenting the conversations to provide a record when necessary is valuable when the issue gets worse, not only as proof to the employee, but provide record for necessary disciplinary action. Having witnesses allows the documentation to be verified. Providing clear guidelines as to what is acceptable and showing the employee is aware and accepts these guidelines. Providing appropriate documented warnings allowing the employee suitable time to change their behaviour and providing that necessary documentation. Be objective in your responses and base it on fact. Set the standard early, and do not weaken or stray from it.

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