Manager urged to confront hostile employee

Dear Joan:
I am a supervisor and I have a problem that requires help. One of my employees resents it whenever I have to talk to her about her performance. It has gotten to the point that she gets quite hostile. I have become intimidated by her attitude and it has affected my ability to properly supervise her. How do I overcome this and regain my position while lessening her hostility?

Things have gotten out of hand and in order to correct the situation, you are going to have to manage your own emotions. If you are unable to deal with this employee in an objective, firm way, not only will the situation worsen, you will lose stature with the rest of your employees and your boss.

It's time to deal with this employee's attitude straight on. Up to now, her hostility has gotten her exactly what she wanted and you have backed off. No more intimidation games. Now, in addition to her performance problems, she has an attitude problem to work on.

This employee has successfully deflected the negative feedback because she sensed you felt uncomfortable giving it. The next discussion you have with her will be controlled by you, not by her. Your confidence and control will come from the knowledge that you are prepared. Let's get started.

First, write down the expectations this person has not been meeting. In other words, what is it she should be doing and to what degree of quality. For example: "All weekly reports must be completed by Friday at noon and contain X,Y and Z."

Next, write down examples of her poor performance. It's not enough to say, "She hasn't been doing it." Instead, you might say something such as, "Reports for March 10, 17, 31 and April 14 and 28 were turned in two or three days late. Errors included: X was missing on 4 of them, Y was incomplete and data collected was inaccurate on both of the April reports that were late." Include as much detail and as many examples as you have.

Now say to yourself, "What are the consequences of her poor performance?" Perhaps her poor work is slowing down production or is affecting the quality of the product. Other team members may be negatively affected. Use as many detailed examples as you can.

Write down some ideas you have for solving the problem. Make sure the ideas you come up with are the responsibility of your employee. For example, if the problem were really poor reports, as in the previous example, an appropriate solution would not be for you to rewrite or edit them.

Finally, decide how you will follow up on this problem. Will you check her work daily? Will you have an experienced employee work with her? And when will you need to have another follow up discussion to check on her progress?

Now, you are ready. Call your employee into a private area and get ready to manage your own reactions and stay removed from hers. Concentrate on only this: This employee has created her own problems and she needs to take steps to correct them or she could eventually be fired. Your job is to get the work done. You will not be sidetracked with accusations or any other form of hostility. The facts will speak for themselves. The consequences of her poor work will clearly show that she is hurting the operation. Your job is to be fair to the company and the workers by solving this problem.

If she retaliates with an accusation that you are picking on her, say, "I'm sorry you feel that way. I don't like having this conversation any more than you do but as you can see, these results speak for themselves."

If she glares in silence, ignore it and say what you have to say. If she refuses to answer your questions, say, "I was hoping you would be more cooperative and we could work together to solve this. The choice is yours but I must tell you that failure to improve could result in more disciplinary action or even termination."

If her attitude has begun to affect the way she relates to you in front of others, be ready with examples that you found inappropriate. Keep a steady, calm tone of voice and make it clear that you want that behavior stopped. For example, "Yesterday, when I gave you your work assignments you rolled your eyes and slammed the papers down on your desk in front of the others, I felt that was inappropriate. If you have something to say to me, I am happy to discuss it but reactions like that are beginning to affect the rest of the team and they must stop."

Keep the discussion focused on what she wants to do to solve the problem. If she has an idea, let her try it for a period of time and monitor how it works. Bring in your solution ideas, if she has none, or you don't think hers are acceptable.

After the discussion, summarize it in memo form and give a copy to her. Tell her you want to make sure there is no misunderstanding. In the memo, detail the problem, the negative affect it has on the unit, her solution ideas, the terms of the follow up arrangements and the date of the next discussion. This should leave no room for questions in her mind regarding what must be done.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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