Preparing managers to give feedback to aggressive employees

Preparing managers to give feedback to aggressive employees

It’s a task most managers dread: giving feedback to a difficult staff member who is prone to aggressive behaviour. Unfortunately, when aggression is left unchecked, it’s likely to continue. In some cases, it can escalate and pose a health and safety risk. So managers need to take action as soon as they spot aggressive behaviour in the workplace. As an HR professional, you can help managers prepare to do so by taking three key steps.CARTOON Oct 10 Not arguing

1. Training managers to recognise the early signs of aggression

If it’s detected early, aggressive behaviour can be nipped in the bud. So it’s important to teach managers how to spot the behavioural cues associated with low-level aggression.

These include so-called ‘difficult behaviours’ such as

  • Angry outbursts
  • Shouting
  • Swearing
  • Repeatedly interrupting or talking over colleagues
  • Slamming doors
  • Throwing objects
  • Standing over colleagues or customers
  • Using abrupt, ‘blamer style’ gestures such as finger-pointing

You can develop managers’ skills in spotting these signs by including modules on appropriate workplace behaviour in all management training courses. Sometimes it helps to run customised, site-specific workplace bullying courses or conflict resolution training.

2. Building managers’ skills in emotional regulation

Managers who are scared of conflict won’t like giving feedback to aggressive employees. So HR practitioners need to help managers handle their fight or flight reactions. To do this, you can:

  • Provide just-in-time coaching to managers involved in difficult situations
  • Give managers access to high quality training videos, such as those available on Eleanor Shakiba’s youtube channel
  • Refer managers to your employee assistance service
  • Deliver onsite training in emotional intelligence competencies
  • Set up peer coaching groups, in which experienced managers can support and advise their less confident colleagues
  • Provide mentoring and support for manager who are handling team dynamics problems

3. Providing model phrases for giving behavioural feedback

Many managers have difficulty framing feedback in objective, behavioural terms. As an HR professional or trainer, you can play an important role in helping managers prepare and deliver appropriate, assertive feedback statements. In particular, it can be useful to provide managers with ‘starter phrases’ they can use to frame their feedback messages. Examples of starter phrases include:

  • I’d like to talk to you about some behaviours I’ve noticed…
  • Yesterday I heard you speaking to …..about….I was concerned by the volume of your voice during that conversation
  • During the team meeting, you spoke over ….a number of times. I’d like us to talk about that

For more tips on how to frame a feedback message successfully, see Eleanor Shakiba’s previous post on giving feedback to difficult people.

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