Jim is … well, he’s a pain in the neck. He acts up during meetings, rolls his eyes when you give him an assignment, and has little respect for authority. Unfortunately, Jim is skilled enough at his job that simply firing him will create an even bigger problem. Still, Jim can’t go on this way. The rest of his team, and his manager, have had enough.
So what’s a manager to do when a Jim starts poisoning the workplace with his bad attitude? Well, for starters, don’t just flat out call him out. It might be therapeutic to tell Jim what a … well, you know … he is, but it won’t solve anything.
Been there, heard that
Why not? Because people like Jim have been heard it all before. They’ve had teachers, parents, and even other bosses challenge their behavior, and by now it’s a point of pride. They think, “I’m the rebel, the defiant one who stands up and says what no one else dares say.”
So simply telling Jim, “You have a bad attitude, buster,” will just confirm what he knows and what he strives for. Instead, use the ABC Method for dealing with bad attitudes:
1) Characterize the general Attitude that is impairing performance. Ask, “What feelings and beliefs are getting in the way of this person’s performance?” In Jim’s case, it’s his “us-vs-them” mentality that creates misalignment between him and the organization.
2) Identify the specific Behaviors that are symptoms of that attitude. Ask, “What did the person actually do?” Enter a description of each negative behavior into a log over a period of a week or two, or perhaps longer. For Jim, that means every instance of eye-rolling, whining, backtalking, and so on get documented.
3) Tie those behaviors to the negative Consequences. Ask yourself, “Why do these behaviors hurt our organization?” and “What will happen to the employee if he or she doesn’t eliminate them?”
Presenting the case
Put all of this into a crisp, non-judgmental memo to the employee, followed by a brief one-on-one meeting. Don’t allow the meeting to devolve into a debate about what the employee did, or whether it was harmful. None of that matters; what matters is that you know the behavior was harmful to you and the organization, and it needs to stop.
Sometimes employees like Jim care enough about their job to come around and correct their behavior. It’s great when that happens.
But if your Jim — or Jane — doesn’t reform, it’ll be clear that the person is a poor fit for your team, and you’ll have to act accordingly.
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