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The Savvy Office Manager

Read the clues when confronting a worker

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Cal Butera

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in The Savvy Office Manager

Cornering an employee to address performance issues is an unpleasant but necessary part of your job. It is, in essence, a closed-door moment where you lay out the person’s shortcomings, give him or her a chance to explain and then agree to a course of action.

Many times workers will try to B.S. their way through it because, well, they feel their jobs are on the line.

But in addition to listening to their words, pay close attention to their body language. Those clues are valuable. Here are some ways employees react when in confrontational situations, and how you can respond.

Silence. This worker is plugged into what you’re saying, so don’t mistake him for a dismissive stoic. There’s a good chance he’s afraid to say anything that might provoke some discipline. Your response: Carefully word your questions and comments to loosen him up. Once you get him to talk, assure him that you’re there to help, not punish.

Tears. You’re dealing with a fragile worker who was likely taken by surprise that she wasn’t up to snuff. Your response: Be sympathetic, but don’t join the pity party. Back off a bit until she composes herself. Tell her it’s not the end of the world (and certainly not her job), and the two of you are meeting to correct things.

Laughter. Don’t assume he thinks the whole thing is a joke. Often, people let out a nervous giggle as a defense mechanism; he’s scared and concerned. Your response: Never laugh with him. Remain serious and speak firmly, but don’t overreact to his chuckles. He will stop once he senses your commitment to helping him recognize and correct his ways.

Anger. “Who? Me? You are so wrong.” She is ready to jump out of her seat to defend herself; to let you know the whole meeting is unwarranted and you’re off the mark. She doesn’t feel she’s responsible for the problem you’ve presented. Your response: Keep your cool, and she’ll tone it down once you firmly explain in detail the problems she’s caused. Focus on facts. With her, you can’t be vague.

Apologies. His eyes are cast down, and he lifts them only to keep saying “I’m sorry.” He appears humble and submissive and is probably hoping that his apologies will get him off the hook. Your response: Be wary of the sincerity. But as long as he’s agreeing to the problem, focus on the solution and get a commitment from him to cooperate.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Cal March 6, 2017 at 12:19 pm

The employee handbook can be changed by a supervisor if HR (or other senior managers) allows that to happen. But there are multiple downsides to that free-for-all approach to enforcing workplace policies and altering the rules. (1) Employee morale will take a hit when there are different rules for different people; and (2) different rules for different people is one of the key ingredients to stir up a discrimination lawsuit.


Cheryl March 9, 2017 at 1:34 pm

Thank you for the new ingredients, the supervisor is rewriting the HR on my behalf it’s not a good working relationship. Again, thank you


Cheryl March 6, 2017 at 11:43 am

Can the HR handbook be change by an supervisor of an department to fix their needs. My supervisor is trying to change the HR handbook on working hours, for her department only.


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