“Problems in the workplace are often created not by what we do, but by what we fail to do.”
-Aubrey C. Daniels – Bringing Out the Best in People
“All problems become smaller if you don’t dodge them, but confront them.”
– William F. Halsey
And one from me: Failure to confront a negative behavior is a subtle acceptance of it, an encouragement for it to continue in the future.
I prefer encouraging good behaviors over punishing bad ones. Encouragement is more comfortable to me, and in fact, 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. When they do, it is the leader’s responsibility to step in and address them.
Maybe that statement is a no-brainer for you because confrontation is not uncomfortable for you. You do it naturally, and because it comes naturally, you may be highly skilled at addressing problems directly. However, many 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 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. And, 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.
Important: I am not suggesting public humiliation for people who act in offending ways. I am suggesting that leaders 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. Here is a partial list of some behaviors/issues I have had to address:
- Interrupting meetings
- Supervisors treating employees poorly
- Employees verbally attacking each other
- Lack of preparedness for meetings
- Lack of attention in meetings
- Too many personal phone calls at work
- And many others.
To help people who, like me, would rather avoid a confrontation, I offer these suggestions to ease the stress:
- Be prepared. Pre-plan what you intend to say. In most situations, I don’t suggest that you read a prepared statement. 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 in advance.
- Be specific. Make sure you speak about specific behaviors, and not your interpretations. Here is the difference: Words like rude, inconsiderate, disrespectful, arrogant, obnoxious, flighty, unfocused and pushy are interpretations. Words like interrupting, rolling eyes, speaking loudly (or softly), shrugging shoulders, looking away, walking away, and tone of voice are specific behaviors.
- 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 behavior, you use positive reinforcement rather than punishment to drive performance.
- Stay calm. 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.