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Reading the cues of confrontation

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in Workplace Communication,Workplace Conflict

When performance problems have to be confronted, it is not always easy to get employees to respond openly. But if you can understand their behavioral cues, you can often know what they are not putting into words.

Here are a few ways to read these cues and guide employees toward frank, open discussion:

-Back against the wall. This employee might stop listening or interrupt you. She may shake her head in disagreement or frustration. She's saying, "This problem is beyond me. It's pointless to go on because ..." Your response? Help her elaborate on the "because." Offer to be a partner in resolving the problem.

-Anger. This employee is visibly upset and shows it, either through general stiffness or through quick movements of the hands and shifts in body position. She does not believe she's responsible for the problem. Your response? Calmly and systematically explain why she is responsible. Focus strictly on the facts and don't allow her anger to provoke you.

-Apologies. This employee appears humble and submissive and may interrupt you more than once with apologies. Your response? Since there seems to be agreement on the problem, focus on the solution—firmly. The more specific you can make your suggestions for improvement, the better.

-Crying. More often than not, the employee who reacts with a flood of tears is saying, "I've tried so hard, but I've failed." Your response? Be empathetic, but firm. Don't become emotionally involved in the situation, but do assure the employee that you're there to help.

-Laughing. The employee seems to shrug off the problem and may even treat the meeting as a social occasion, appearing overly relaxed—saying, "Hey, this problem is no big deal." Joking and laughter in this situation are defenses against a painful reality. Respond by being serious and direct, but don't overreact.

-Silence. The silent employee doesn't seem to be reacting to what you are saying. He may be genuinely interested, but more likely he's afraid to respond. Gently push this employee a bit with carefully worded questions or comments. Once you get a reply, assure him that you want to help—and ask him how you can.

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