Confronting problems: Make difficult encounters easier

Susie’s always late for meetings. You don’t like it, and you’ve signaled your displeasure with frowns and even  blurting out “Late again?” But nothing is working. To change bad behavior in their employees, business owners and managers must confront them and ask for good behavior. Have you heard this catch phrase? If you don’t confront, you condone. You might think you’re signaling your disapproval and employees should know what you want. But that’s unproductive. Besides, sniping makes you grumpy, unsettles the rest of your team and it’s demoralizing and demotivating. You need to talk to Susie. Here’s something of a crib sheet for making the most of confrontations:

Before confronting an employee, ask yourself a few questions. What you really want? It helps you focus. What story are you telling yourself?

Is it Susie doesn’t do what she’s supposed to because she’s rude, lazy and doesn’t respect me?

Consider your negative thoughts and then let them go. Focus instead on the behavior. It’s either acceptable or unacceptable. Say to yourself:

It doesn’t matter if Susie’s rude, her behavior is unacceptable and ruins the meeting for everyone. Her coworkers and I deserve better behavior. Finally, distill the issue to one sentence: I want Susie there on time.

In starting a confrontation, meet in private, state what you want to discuss and share your good intentions.  Make it safe. Tell Susie, “I want to give you some feedback, and we’ll talk about how this can be improved.”

Remember Charlie Brown and how the comic strip character was so insecure? Most of us have an inner Charlie Brown. To neutralize that part of us, we seek confirmation we’re fundamentally okay, even when we make mistakes. We’ve screwed up, but we’re not screwups. Convey that message to Susie.

To get to the issue, describe the difference between what you expect and what you’re getting. Keep four words in mind: describe, express, specific, consequences.

Describe the exact behavior you find disappointing.  Be as specific as possible. Avoid generalizations. The words “always” and “never” signal generalizations. Talk about the pattern. There’s no need to offer extensive proof.  Simply be clear about the problem and pattern. Don’t guess at motives or accuse. It’s the behavior you want changed, that’s all.

Use “I” messages to express how you feel and think about the disappointing behavior. Start a discussion about the benefits of change. Speak from a positive perspective and show mutual purpose.

Discuss how Susie, you and your co-workers can benefit from starting meetings on time. Ask explicitly for a different, specified behavior. “I expect you to stop doing X and start doing Y instead.”    Don’t pile on the requests.

One request at a time achieves the best results. The request should be concrete and specific. Refer to objective actions rather than personality traits or attitudes. Rather than say “don’t be rude,” say “I want you to be in the staff room on time. That’s what I expect.”

Make the request easy, something an employee should be able to do. If they can’t do what you need to have done, that’s an issue of a development plan. Offer help if it’s appropriate. Not all employee problems are your problems, but some could benefit from your assistance in making a plan.

Make your request motivating. Express confidence you’ll see new behavior. State your belief both of you want to move forward. “I expect you there. The team needs you there. And you can be there.” Spell out the consequences. Speak to both the positive and  negative consequences. At the end of a confrontation, restate what was said. Confirm plans to remedy the behavior. If it’s an involved plan, repeat who will do what and by when. Document it if the issue is documentation-worthy. Describing a meeting to change behavior takes a lot of words, but the meeting itself should be short. Don’t get distracted. Keep the purpose in mind: This person will stop doing this and start doing that. Listen, but remain firm about your expectations. Avoid discussions of other employees’ behaviors.

Business owners and managers faced with unacceptable behaviors must confront their employees. Remember: If you don’t confront, you condone and bad behavior spreads. You’ll be glad you corrected the behavior and you’ll gain confidence in dealing with problems as they arise in the future.

Linda Davidson is a business coach and facilitator in Grand Junction. Reach her at 242-7677 or through the website at Davidson also serves on the board of the Western Colorado Human Resource Association. The WCHRA next meets at 11:30 a.m. Nov. 28 at the Bookcliff Country Club, 2730 G Road in Grand Junction. For more information, log on to