14116564280q46bAs a people leader, you probably witness a number of workplace transgressions on a daily or weekly basis.  There are times we choose not to address the indiscretions because the employee is a high performer or because he / she may challenge you if you confront them and you do not feel you have the skills you need to manage the confrontation constructively. Fear is a primary reason why leaders don’t confront difficult circumstances and as a result, situations can become cancerous or erupt uncontrollably. One reason why fear exists is because leaders have told themselves the story that confrontation is aggressive and unpleasant, but this is usually the case when leaders avoid the situation long enough, or if they engage the situation but lack the skills to facilitate healthy confrontation. There are organizations that espouse core values which include team building, effective communication, and integrity yet when a team member displays toxic behavior it remains unaddressed, leading to disengagement, distrust and a fragmented team.

For instance, chronic absenteeism affects the productivity of teams because coworkers now have to complete their duties as well as the duties of the absent employee.  There are managers who don’t address the absenteeism trends and this could be for a number of reasons. Regardless the reason, the employees assuming the extra work can begin to feel unfairly treated or worse, they can start to feel the organization doesn’t care about their welfare. If left unaddressed, it is very easy for this dynamic to create an unwanted effect because employees who are stretched to capacity get burnt out, so absenteeism and turnover rates are further impacted.

Confrontation tends to have a negative connotation, but when it is appropriately timed and facilitated respectfully, devoid of unproductive emotion, a constructive conversation can be initiated with a difficult employee or about a difficult circumstance.  By taking this approach, the leader’s intention is to maintain a healthy work relationship with the employee, resolve the issue, and manage the morale of the team. So here is what you can take into account when you are weighing a decision to confront:

  1. If you don’t address it, what are the risks?
  2. If you decide to talk to the person you need to confront, think about how you should communicate your sentiments in a way that will be perceived as constructive. At this stage it is important for you to manage your emotions effectively.  Otherwise, you can heighten the possibility for miscommunication, and escalation of the situation.
  3. Ask yourself if you have all the facts you need.
  4. If you are not sure about how you will be perceived by the person you are confronting, ask an appropriate colleague to role play with you.
  5. The best time to confront is as soon as possible after an incident, so time it according to your emotional state and readiness and equip yourself with as many facts as possible.
  6. Avoid using blaming language and tones.  Stick to the facts as you know them, and don’t make assumptions.
  7. If the employee does not report to you, consider your desired relationship and decide if you should address the employee first in order to give him / her an opportunity to course correct.

In a perfect world, positive reinforcement is an effective corrective path but sometimes, for reasons beyond your control, the employee is not the right fit for the role or the company and the positive approach yields no tangible results. When there is a stalemate and no productive change in the circumstances, it is time for you to confront your fears as it may be appropriate to manage the person off the team.  Managing an employee off the team may involve coaching or mentoring, depending on the quality of the relationship.

Confronting unproductive circumstances or toxic employees stops them from becoming chronic problems. Your intention as a leader should be to create a high performing team and this means you should dare to constructively confront situations so you can proactively manage team morale.

Yvette Bethel is CEO of Organizational Soul, an Organizational Effectiveness Consulting and Leadership Development company. She is a Consultant, Trainer, Speaker, Facilitator, Executive Coach, Author, and Emotional Intelligence Practitioner.  If you are interested Yvette's ideas on other leadership topics you can sign up for her free newsletter at www.yvettebethel.com or you can listen to her weekly podcast at Evolve Podcast.