How to Confront Problem Behavior

When employees don’t do things the way you would like them to, or when you want them to, usually it’s a result of poor communication or an honest mistake. But sometimes employees just don’t want to do what you ask them to do. When that happens, you need to confront the problem behavior head-on.

Vistage speaker Judith Segal has been helping CEOs manage conflict and confrontation for years. She recommends the following steps when trying to get employees to change problem behavior:

  1. Examine your own behavior to see if you are consciously or unconsciously doing anything that allows or encourages the employee to continue the undesired behavior.
  2. Set up a meeting with the employee to discuss only the problem behavior. Stay focused and don’t let any other issues creep onto the agenda.
  3. Be prepared. Before the meeting, make a list of questions you might want to ask, some possible responses from the employee and how you might respond. Doing your homework allows you to be factual, not emotional, during the meeting.
  4. Define the problem. When the meeting begins, state in clear, specific terms what makes the behavior a problem and the negative impact of the behavior on you, others and the company. Then tell the employee what you would like him or her to do differently.

    Optional: Before requesting the new behavior, you may want to ask the employee for suggestions on what he or she might do differently.

  5. Elicit the employee’s point of view by asking open-ended questions. Avoid “Why?” questions, which can put people on the defensive and create an adversarial situation. “What?” and “How?” questions are much more effective.
    Instead of: “Why did you do that?”
    Ask: “What made you decide to do it that way?”
    Or: “How did you make that decision?”
    Instead of: “Why did you do it that way?”
    Ask: “What were you trying to accomplish?”
    Or: “How did you assess the situation?”
    Instead of: “Why didn’t you come to me for help?”
    Ask: “What led to your decision not to come to me for help?”
    Or: “How could I have made it easier for you to come to me for help?”
  6. Ask for a commitment to change. Have the employee restate your expectations in his or her own words. Ask if he or she is willing to do what you want. Then, ask what he or she thinks it will take to change the behavior. Pose the following (or similar) questions:
  7. “What exactly will you do differently?”
  8. “What steps will you take?”
  9. “What problems do you foresee that might prevent you from making this change?”
  10. “How will you deal with each of these problems?”
  11. If the problem is really serious…The following steps are typically required only if the situation involves discipline or the possibility of termination.Explain the benefits to the employee of changing the behavior and the consequences if a change doesn’t occur. Be very specific:
  12. “This is what will happen when you change your behavior….”
  13. “This is what will happen if you decide not to change your behavior….” Set up a series of meetings to review the employee’s behavior and implement any reward or punishment. Once the positive change is made, you need to keep reinforcing the new behavior in order to sustain it. If the change is not made, you need to address it immediately.

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