I absolutely prefer encouraging good behaviors over punishing bad ones. Encouragement is more comfortable to me, and that might be the problem. Behavioral analysts find that high-level performance comes from the effective use of positive reinforcement. However, we all know that some unacceptable behaviors will happen at work. When they do, it is the leader’s responsibility to step in and address them.
For many of you, that advice may seem like a no-brainer. Confrontation is not uncomfortable for you, and even can do it naturally. Because it comes naturally, you may be highly skilled at addressing problems directly. However, the rest of us feel some stress and discomfort when conflict arises. I happen to be a person who would prefer to avoid conflict if possible, so I don’t offer this advice glibly. I offer it as a lesson I learned from mistakes I have made in the past.
My desire for peace and harmony sometimes stops me from quickly confronting negative behaviors. The paradox is that, as the leader of a team, if I do not address negative behaviors, I will get more of them. In the end, I will have less peace and harmony. In order to get what I do want, I have to do what I don’t want to do.
A word of caution: I am not suggesting you publicly humiliate people who act in offending ways. I am suggesting that you confront negative behaviors before they hurt team performance, not after. I am sure that you have a list of negative behaviors you have seen in the workplace, such as:
- Interrupting meetings
- Lack of preparedness for meetings
- Lack of attention in meetings
- Supervisors treating employees poorly
- Employees verbally attacking each other
- Employees being rude to customers, both internal and external
- Too many personal phone calls at work
- Poor breakroom/kitchen etiquette
- Missing deadlines
- Shifting blame
And the list goes on and on. To help people who, like me, would rather avoid a confrontation, I offer these suggestions to ease the stress:
- Be prepared. Plan what you intend to say. In most situations, I don’t suggest that you read a prepared statement to the person. However, you should be prepared.
- Be brief. Get to the point quickly, and stay on topic. You will find it easier to be brief if you prepare your remarks and practice them.
- Be specific. Make sure you speak about specific behaviors, and not your interpretations of the person’s actions. For example, words, such as “rude,” “inconsiderate,” “disrespectful,” “arrogant,” “obnoxious,” “flighty,” “unfocused” and “pushy” are interpretations. You want to provide actions, such as: interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly, shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away.
- Explain the impact. Tell the person how other people perceive the behavior or how it affects team performance.
- State the desired alternative. Go beyond a description of the negative behavior to describe what you expect in the future. By stating the desired positive behavior, later you will be able to use positive reinforcement rather than punishment to drive performance.
- Stay calm. This is vital. The behavior may frustrate you, but now is not the time to vent on people. You want them to focus on your message and their behavior, not your frustration or anger.
Starting today, begin to confront those negative behaviors that threaten teamwork and increase conflict.
Now, watch this quick video to learn steps you can take to reduce conflict: