It was one of the worst moments of my working life. I was
the assistant manager in a distribution center and I sat down one of our
warehousemen for a chat about his behavior, which needed improvement. Things
started out just fine.
Then, without warning it seemed, he was standing over my desk, red-faced,
shouting and slamming his fist into the desk like he wished it was me. After he
stormed out, I sat there, shaking and wondering what I did to set him off.
That turned out to be the inspiration for the work I’ve
done since and published in Performance Talk and The Working Supervisor’s Support Kit
also how I know in my gut just how scary confrontation with a team member can
I know it in my head, too. For years I began every supervisory skills
training by asking the participants what particular issues they wanted to cover.
“Talking to team members about behavior” was always at or near the top of the
list. It’s been the same for coaching clients.
If you’re worried about confrontations with your team members, I can’t
promise you a magic spell to make it go away. What I can do is outline some
simple things you can do to make confrontation less likely and less
Touch base a lot. This sets the stage for everything. You and your team
members learn about each other and you’re around often enough to spot problems
while they’re small.
Have conversations with your team members. A conversation is
face-to-face or voice-to-voice, no keyboards involved. Conversations are
relationship builders. People are less likely to be obnoxious to a boss who’s a
human being instead of just “The Boss.”
Deal with performance issues as soon as possible after you notice
them. That way you’re more likely to deal with little problems instead
of big, festering problems. You’re also less likely to spark uncomfortable
When you need to talk about behavior or performance, here
are the steps. Start with an objective description. Leave the adjectives home.
Then mention, quickly, why it’s important. Then wait for your team member to
speak. Wait as long as it takes.
Not one of those things is magic and they won’t work every time. But they
increase the odds that you will have fewer confrontations and even fewer
Boss’s Bottom Line
Talking to team members about behavior and performance is part of your job,
so your best option is to learn to handle it well.