Deal With On-board Troublemakers
Most organizations have on-board troublemakers. You probably recognize these types — they’re the ones who bring negativity and toxicity to the workplace. Such employees literally suck the life out of the good ideas and energy that are needed for opportunity and growth. To add to the challenge many times this person is a tenured employee who has the attention of co-workers. So what is the impact of this situation? As noted in a well known 2001 Yale University School of Management study by Dr. Sigal Barsade, negativity is damaging for a number of reasons but, importantly, it’s also more contagious and more often believed by others than positive types of expression. Clearly, this can adversely impact your company, its people and the bottom line — and the cumulative effect can then undermine your own leadership credibility and possibly even threaten your job. So call upon your courage and take the proper steps to deal with such troublesome individuals.
Here’s a three-step approach to nixing the negativity of on-board troublemakers:
1. Define the behavior.
When addressing someone who is bringing negativity to the workplace, be very specific about what that individual is doing and how it’s affecting others, including you. So for example, say you’ve held a meeting about a new solution and have gotten everyone’s buy-in — or so you think. Then later, much to your surprise, you hear from a direct report that June, another employee is calling everyone and saying that your idea will never work. Suddenly, all the other staff members are now talking about how it’s a bad idea. You’ve been undermined by someone who failed to express her concerns at the appropriate time and then felt the need to badmouth your idea behind your back. What do you do? Call June into your office to talk about the behavior, just stating the facts: I’m aware that you’ve been contacting other employees and talking down the solution I proposed in our meeting. You’ve talked to at least 10 individuals about this and have been spending time and energy trying to convince them not to support this decision we’ve collectively made. Because people are now spending time talking about this issue, they are not getting their jobs done, and instead of implementing the solution, we are still debating whether it is a good idea.
2. Identify the gaps in behavior.
Here, you need to help others understand what they should have done, so they can grasp the difference between their behavior and the expected behavior. In our example with June, you might say: June, here’s what I need… when we’re in a meeting, making a decision, speak up if you don’t agree and tell everyone right then and there. When we walk out of the meeting with a decision I expect everybody to support it including you. Don’t, leave the meeting and then go talk about why the solution is problematic to everyone after we make a decision.
3. Establish a plan of action.
This is about creating clear understanding about what the behavior will look like moving forward, getting consensus around that agreement, and communicating what will happen if the negative behavior continues. It should be straightforward: June, I’m going to monitor your behavior during and after meetings. From now on, I want you to speak up about how you’re feeling or any problems you see while we’re gathered together. If you don’t voice your concerns about our decision in front of the others and I find out later that you’re talking negatively and disrupting teamwork further disciplinary action will be taken. It is a good idea to document this conversation and get the employee to sign-off on this coaching session acknowledging your clear direction.
One final note:
Whenever you confront troublemakers at work, be careful about the language and slang you use. Avoid statements such as, “You’ve been stirring the pot” or “You’re rocking the boat” because they can mask what you truly want to say, be misleading or misinterpreted, sound exaggerated, or come across as unprofessional. Choose your words wisely to communicate the specific behavior, the gap in behavior, and that desired action plan. No matter how injured or angry you may feel, make sure what and how you communicate remains professional, objective and helpful — not harmful.
How have you effectively communicated with a troublemaker in your past?