Craig was known across the business for his ‘hot headed’ behaviour in meetings. He had very poor conflict management skills. So it wasn’t surprising he had a reputation for being ‘difficult’ to deal with. Mandy, Craig’s boss, was reluctant to address Craig’s behaviour. She had only been in her management role for six months and was concerned that talking to Craig would make things worse. Mandy’s HR business partner passed on some tips for giving feedback on hot headed behaviours without sparking conflict. Here’s what he suggested she do:
Stick to the facts
If you want feedback to stick, it needs to make sense to the recipient. That’s why Mandy needed to provide clear, concrete examples to Craig. For example, she could say:
- I heard you interrupt Janis three times in this morning’s meeting
- When you thumped your fist on the table, I saw four people jump
- I noticed that you raised objections to every idea which was presented by Tom today
When giving feedback this way, it’s important to keep every word factual and neutral. This prevents conflict emerging during feedback conversations. It also minimises the chance that people will resort to using difficult behaviours. You can find out more about how to do this in Eleanor Shakiba’s book, Difficult People Made Easy.
Challenge rationalisations for poor behaviour
Like many hot headed people, Craig might rationalise his offensive behaviour when Mandy addresses it. He might say, for example, “I was just telling the truth” or “I have the right to speak my mind.” Mandy could challenge this perspective by responding with a boundary statement. For example, she might say “In this business, everyone is expected to speak to co-workers respectfully. This means thumping your fist on the table is unacceptable.”
Redirect back to the issue as often as necessary
Difficult people like Craig are often experts at diverting feedback conversations. They may even try to escalate conflicts in order to cause a digression when you’re giving them feedback. This is why Mandy needs to respond assertively if Craig uses toxic tactics such as:
- Blaming someone else for his own behaviour
- Claiming that someone else is ‘much worse than me’
- Complaining about a totally separate issue
The best response to any of these tactics is to use a ‘backtrack frame.’ These are statements which take a conversation back to a previously stated topic. For example:
- We’re here to discuss what happened in the meeting, not whose fault it was
- I’m not willing to talk about other people when they’re not in the room. Right now, we’re talking about your behaviour.
- That’s a separate issue. Right now, let’s get back to what happened in the meeting
Using these steps helped Mandy raise Craig’s awareness of the need to change. Eventually, Craig agreed to participate in conflict resolution training and a communication skills coaching program. His behaviour changed and he gradually lost his reputation as a difficult person. Craig’s story is an example of how developing employees’ communication skills and emotional awareness can benefit a business.
Want Eleanor Shakiba to run training or teambuilding sessions in your business? Contact her now.