Oct 15, 2014

Problem Employees, Workplace Violence, and Other Problems You Wish Would Go Away

Picture: Courtesy of HuffPost

Picture: Courtesy of HuffPost

Throughout the years you’ve worked with people who caused you to enjoy your job less than you could have. It may have been co-workers, it may have been staff, it may even have been your manager/boss. The offenses committed range from being annoying, to rudeness, to sabotaging your success, to unwanted sexual advances, to threats to do bodily harm. Some people put the blame on the company or organization that employs them and, because of that, HR-type litigation continues to be one of the fastest growing types of litigation. Your workplace is a cosmos of its own, sometimes a reflection of the larger community that surrounds it, but always a reflection of the owner(s) and/or leadership. And, just like the larger community that surrounds it, things happen that don’t align with company values and company culture. And, just like the larger community that surrounds the workplace, the courts don’t usually find in-favor of companies and organizations that don’t take steps to protect their people.

So, what can an organization do to help problem employees change, minimize or eliminate workplace violence, sexual harassment, and other highly charged behaviors, as well as minimize a host of other employee-related problems? Here are 9 Steps given from a contributor to Forbes:

1) Listen
2) Give clear, behavioral feedback
3) Document
4) Be consistent
5) Set consequences if things don’t change
6) Work through the company’s processes
7) Don’t poison the well
8) Manage your self-talk
9) Be courageous

In my experience having worked with many companies and organizations, this is rarely effective. Not because it can’t work, but because of other factors, such as:

1) Employees are rarely children (If they are, then, there may be another problem) I see these 9 steps as more of an outline on working with a child under the age of 10, rather than an adult. The above process is successful only with people who are very open to other people’s ideas and opinions. How many of your people are like that?
2) Untrained people managing the process
3) Uncaring people managing the process
4) This particular model for working through problems with employees has been around for decades. I wonder if it’s the same model used by the U.S. Postal Service in the mid-80’s? Does “going Postal” remind you of anything?

As I researched for this post, I found many, many processes on how to work through the problems listed at the beginning. Most were variations of each other, different words…same concept. What I see being the biggest challenge with the varying processes is that they all miss a very important concept. They all want to know “Why”. Why does a person behave contrary to company values, culture, and policy? Why do they get angry at their co-workers? Why do they make unwanted sexual advances? Why do they threaten those around them with bodily harm?

“Why” isn’t the right question. “Why” only elicits reasons and excuses. “Why” is what psychologists, therapists, and counselors take months and years to find the answer to. It’s what Sigmund Freud is famous for wanting to know. So, what is the right question and how does it make all the difference in the outcome?

“How” is the correct question that needs to be asked. How elicits the strategy, instead of excuses and reasons. Imagine the huge difference when asking “how” in a situation, such as threatening (or inflicting) bodily harm, rather than “why”.

You: “How did you decide to tell Jim that you were going to smash his face through the table top?”
Bill: “He made me so mad that I couldn’t help myself!”
You: “I didn’t ask you ‘why’, I asked ‘how'”. (This is where it gets really interesting. The person, Bill, will now have to go search in his mind to find the strategy he used to arrive at the conclusion that he should verbally threaten Jim. You’ll see the person’s eyes move about as the mind searches for the answer, because this is a totally new concept for them. The mind doesn’t have a readily available answer and will have to take some time to discover the answer, unlike reasons and excuses.)
Bill: Well, Jim said this and then he did that and so I felt and thought this and that, so I… And, he’ll tell you his strategy.

Now, has something very important just happened? YES! You now have tangible information to work with! You know Bill’s strategy…and a strategy, unlike a reason or excuse, can be worked with. A strategy has no emotion, unlike a reason or excuse. A strategy isn’t as personal as a reason or excuse.

So, the next time you have the urge to ask a problem-person “why” they did something, ask “how”, instead. You will create a much clearer, more productive outcome! If you have need for help in the areas of sexual harassment, control of anger, lack of motivation, increased productivity, or a wealth of other people-related problems, please feel free to contact me and we’ll discuss creating a better, more productive organizational environment for YOU!

Dr. Edward Lewellen is a Master Executive Coach, leadership and sales expert, and keynote speaker for some of the largest global organizations.

Author of The 90-Second Mind Manager