Dear Beth – I am working with this team member and I just cannot get her to realise that it is her behaviour that is causing conflict with her colleagues. How can I make her realise this?
Thank you for your email and your question. This is a situation that we encounter often in the workplace, and as I do not know the specifics of your workplace situation, I can respond to your question in general terms only.
When we are working with an individual who doesn’t recognise something about themselves, one of two things will be true, and it is our first step to discern which is the case –
a. the person really cannot see. This is called scotoma – a blind spot.
b. the person does recognize this at a deep level and their ego is getting in the way. It is highly likely that fear is at cause.
If ‘A’ is the case – all that will be needed is evidence. And you must gather the evidence that illustrates the behaviour you wrote about. Without evidence, this is only your opinion; it may also be the opinion of others, you are the one having the conversation with this staff member. It is fine to have anecdotal evidence as long as you have a way to present it well.
Once you have the evidence you simply present the evidence in your coaching session, ensuring confidentiality is maintained and the environment is one of trust and support, applying an ‘Ask’ approach. To maintain the relationship, avoid the ‘Tell’ approach.
If ‘B’ is the case, you still will need the evidence, but you may find that just addressing it with them in a coach setting may be what is needed to make the desired changes.
1. How do you know what you know?
First thing to do is to determine what is true – ensure you are not making an assumption. What evidence do you have that supports the assertion that this staff member’s behaviour is causing conflict? In answering this question, you will begin the process of gathering factual, objective information. Even when it comes to anecdotal information, ensure the facts are well represented.
When you are gathering evidence, you will need multiple samples. One bit of evidence is generally not a convincing argument – it is still likely to be taken as opinion. You must gather as many samples as possible. You may need to present multiple examples for the person to see that he/she is not getting the results that are intended.
2. Observe from a neutral perspective
Next, it is important to ensure you have the most appropriate mindset when working with any of your staff members, particularly with those we label as ‘difficult’ or ‘problematic’. If we think of them in negative terms, our brain is wired to look for proof of our beliefs and we can distort what we see and hear to suit what we think is correct. If you can observe this staff member from a neutral perspective, you are ready for the next step.
3. Identify contributing factors
What factors are contributing to this situation? Before we can isolate a single individual as the sole source of conflict in a Team, look at the culture, the demands of the workplace, the tools and resources available to staff. Approaching the situation from an objective point of view will assist you to look at the whole picture. What may be making it difficult for the person to ‘see’ what others notice? Has this behaviour gone on unaddressed for some time? If so, it is perfectly reasonable for the person to believe there is nothing wrong with how they behave.
4. Look for the good
Once you are certain you have analysed contributing factors to this situation, and have decided to focus on this person’s behaviour, identify all the good qualities of this staff member. If you are looking at this person from neutral perspective, this should be a relatively easy and straightforward task. If, however, your first reaction to this second step was something along the lines of, ‘What good qualities?? This person has NONE!’, then this is very telling.
Everybody on your Team has good qualities, and even the star performers have areas that aren’t star quality. To be effective in our workplace coaching efforts we need to be able to objectively identify the skills and knowledge of each individual member of the Team.
5. Identify the areas of improvement
Now comes the step you have been waiting for – identifying their areas of improvement. It is important you remain objective in this process, and identify quantifiable skills, knowledge and areas of expertise/ experience. In this list is bound to be the matter you wrote to me about – the lack of awareness that they are contributing to conflict in the workplace.
In order for a person to take action to change a behaviour, they need to have awareness of this behaviour. This may be the place to begin with your Team member – having a conversation about their level of awareness the impact their behaviour is having.
6. create a clear plan of action
Lastly, if you are able to have a conversation with this Team member such that they are able to acknowledge how their behaviour affects other Team members, they will need a clear plan of action to correct this behaviour. This will require time and effort, and your support during this process if a vital component of achieving the desired change. Avoid making the common mistake of raising the Team member’s awareness of ‘what they are doing wrong’, and then leaving it to them to make the necessary corrections!
In addition to knowing what they need to change, they also need to know how to make the necessary adjustments. This will require your support (in terms of developing their ability to demonstrate the specific skill identified as lacking). An effective workplace coach has a well-developed tool kit of activities to unleash the hidden talent that lays within this Team member.
If this person is unable to see their behaviour in the same way as the evidence demonstrates and they engage in blaming others, denying the accuracy of the evidence, making excuses, and so on, stay your ground. Maintain your chosen mindset and continue to present the evidence, honestly with integrity and compassion. This may lead to the option of formal performance management.
With the right plan and the right mindset, you will be supporting this person to raise their level of awareness necessary to make the changes you seek, or to take the necessary steps the situation requires. Either way, your efforts are focused on treating the person with integrity and compassion.
All advice given in here is general only and does not take into consideration individual workplace situations, contributing factors, or specific workplace policies and procedures. We always recommend that you consult your organisations workplace coaching model and adhere to the guidelines particular to your business or organisation.
If you have a workplace coaching situation that you would like Beth to address (in this column or in private), write to firstname.lastname@example.org