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When Employee Confrontation Makes You Cringe

November 20, 2012

By: Omnia Group

Understanding the importance of facing employee performance issues head-on.

Some managers have no problem with conflict (some even seem to like it!). They dive into any situation without worrying about hurt feelings or repercussions. For other managers, it's more challenging. Addressing an employee performance issue or pointing out mistakes makes them edgy. The idea of a friendly little discussion leading to a confrontation stops them in their tracks. Maybe they like their employees personally and don't like making people mad. Maybe they worry about being slapped with a lawsuit for saying the wrong thing or stepping outside of the boundaries of HR guidelines.

Unfortunately, conflict will arise in any leadership position; people and their lives are interesting and unpredictable, as are the companies that employ them. Growth, stressors, staff changes, procedure changes, and bad placements can all cause contention in the office.

If conflict is really not your forte, you'll want to make sure you aren't subconsciously doing things to avoid it. Let's say you notice some obvious performance issues from your most recent hire… we'll call him Hal. (Sorry to all you Hals out there).

Here are some signs you might be dodging the problem:

  • You spend as much, or more, energy checking over Hal's work or doing it yourself than you are on your own job.
  • You've started assigning Hal only work you know he won't mess up. "Hal, we've noticed your killer stapling skills. We've got all these papers that need to be put together, so…"
  • You find yourself justifying Hal's actions or blaming them on yourself, "Well, I never specifically told Hal he couldn't open a sushi bar in the break room." which leads to...
  • You've recently rewritten your department's policies to prohibit very specific actions.
    For example: "Employees are prohibited from opening a sushi bar in the break room."
  • You send frequent memos and reminders to all, but they really only apply to Hal.
    For example, "Reminder: Thong bathing suits are not appropriate work attire, even on casual Fridays."
  • You've recently taken to traversing the department work area, ninja-style, performing complicated duck-and-cover moves, and shoulder rolls to avoid contact with Hal.
  • You've begun practicing “break-up” speeches with Hal:
    “Look, we need to talk. In the beginning, everything was great. I could tell you cared, and we made a commitment, but things have changed. We are drifting apart. We have different needs. You seem to need to post on Facebook and shop online for sneakers every day, and I need you to do your freakin' job. Maybe we should start seeing less of each other. It’s not me; it’s you.”

Confrontations are no fun, but if you find yourself sidestepping problems to avoid being a “bad guy,” you might want to consider this: Are you sure you aren't the "bad guy" after all?

Chances are pretty good your best employees have noticed the problems too, and need to step up their game to pick up Hal’s slack. By not addressing matters quickly, you’re putting undue stress on those whose work you value.

By adding new or more stringent rules, you run the risk of punishing good performers and having more confrontations down the road: More rules = more rules to break.

As a manager, your time is more costly; you aren't doing your company any favors by not doing your manager-stuff.

So what do you do?  Here's 5 tips to get you on your way to handling employee performance issues!

1. Know your company's discipline policies - If it comes to a write-up, retraining, or termination, you'll want to know you are handling matters properly.
2. If possible, head it off at the pass - If you notice problems with a new employee, the sooner you step in, the better. Correct, retrain, and give examples. This isn't even contentious... just part of the learning process for any new hire.
3. Be proactive - Like anything unpleasant, the dread is usually worse than the conflict itself. Address the problem immediately and specifically.
4. Keep it unemotional - You don't dislike the person, just their actions (ok, you might dislike the person, but that's irrelevant). Facts are easier. "You were supposed to do X; you did Y. Please stop."
5. Document, document, documentOh, and did I say document? Put everything in writing. The HR/Legal department will thank you for it if matters escalate.


Omnia Group

For over 30 years, we’ve helped organizations across the world improve and optimize their workforce operations and company cultures. While we take a unique, scientific approach to hiring, development and retention, we also believe every business is a people business. Our passionate advisors always put people first.

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