How to Have a Discussion About Bad Behaviour

It’s a situation that leaders don’t look forward to but have to be prepared for and that is having that performance discus­sion about poor behaviour with a team member. Everyone
22 Sep 2018 11:00
How to Have a Discussion About Bad Behaviour

It’s a situation that leaders don’t look forward to but have to be prepared for and that is having that performance discus­sion about poor behaviour with a team member.

Everyone makes mistakes and the majority of mistakes are mi­nor and can be easily corrected without much interference yet there are situations when a team member crosses a line and makes a mistake that has to be addressed immediately.

Most likely these conversations tend to be around breaches of code of conduct, actions that are unac­ceptable and illustrate a lack of trust and respect.

These discussions can’t be ig­nored and is a test of the leaders ability to lead the team.

In this article, I want to share with you some tips that other lead­ers I have coached have found to have worked for them.

You are not the enemy

When I deliver Leadership work­shops for companies I remind people that good leaders don’t fire people instead they allow people to fire themselves.

I know some leaders hesitate to have conversations with team members because if they do some­thing wrong they are concerned about the consequences.

This is a huge mistake.

The role of the leader is to guide people, to give them an under­standing of what will happen in the future, what behaviours are right and what behaviours are wrong.

It’s not the leaders role to think for people. We all have a free will and with that gift we have to live with the consequences of our ac­tions.

As long as the leader explains these consequences then the lead­er is the guide and not the enemy.

Describe the specific behaviour that needs to change rather than a judgement

It’s incredibly rare that a person goes to work in order to deliber­ately make a mistake.

The most common scenario is that people misunderstand what is required and they think they are doing the right thing even though the leader knows the person is do­ing something wrong.

It’s therefore the responsibility of the leader to explain things in a way that avoids all misunder­standing.

What is obvious to one person is not always obvious to someone else so focus on specifics.

As an example if an employee comes to work late everyday and this is having a detrimental im­pact of the rest of the team, a lead­er may think this is a sign of being unprofessional.

However, mentioning this during a performance discussion would be a mistake as many people have different interpretations of what “professionalism” means so in­stead focus on the specifics.

The time the person turned up and what time they should be here. Focus on the specifics and you re­move any misunderstandings and increase your chances of better results.

Don’t make it personal

It’s easy to make things personal but it would be a mistake to do so.

I had a situation recently when a senior manager that I coach had to have a discussion with a team member when she found out that the team member had been pub­licly critical of her to the team and more importantly to customers.

You can imagine how hurt the manager was when she heard crit­ical comments but she knew she couldn’t make it personal so when she had a performance discussion with the team member she ex­plained that it didn’t matter what he thought of her.

He could think she’s a wonder­ful person or he could think she’s a horrible person, but what mat­tered was how he conducted him­self when he was at work.

The fact that he made his com­ments public rather impacted the team and damaged the reputation of the organisation.

By focussing on the specifics and not making it personal made it a far more effective conversation.

Criticise the behaviour rather than the individual

The purpose of any performance discussion is not to punish, the purpose is to change behaviour and while this sometimes may in­clude punishment it’s not the pri­mary aim.

A person is more than their ac­tions, good people can do bad things and bad peoples can do good things so the leader should always focus on criticising the behaviour or actions of the team member and not the team member themselves.

A leader is a dealer in clarity and hope.

They have to clarify what behav­iours are unacceptable and pro­vide support for what is accept­able.

It’s important to ask if there’s any obstacles that the leader is un­aware of which is preventing the desired acceptable behaviour.

If not then the team member needs to know that everything will be fine as long as they change and the responsibility to change rests with them and nobody else.

Follow up with support

A performance discussion should only be part of an overall strategy.

Having a clear code of conduct is necessary and leaders must lead by example.

It’s morally wrong to criticise someone for doing something that you are doing yourself and just as importantly you need to follow up on discussions.

A good performance discussion can change behaviours but a sim­ple “thank you” and “good work” can also make changes that last.

If you see someone has changed his behaviour or is trying hard to change, remembering change is not always easy, the leader should go out for their way to share a few words of encouragement.

A little praise can go a long way.

People will always make mistakes and often when they do so with good intentions and rarely with malice.

When leaders have to have per­formance discussions to address bad behaviour, it’s important to involve your human yesources de­partment if you have one.

This is to ensure that whatever action you take falls in line with your people policies.

Do this and you will have a much more effective, productive and loy­al team.


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