Confronting Bad Behavior

On March 25, 2010, in behavior, Culture, by Charles G

David Eddie, the author of Damage Control, gives some sound advise on confronting a colleague or subordinate about their bad breath.

He writes in a recent Globe and Mail column, “…it’s best to go in bluntly.”

David suggest using a variation of the following:

“(1)Listen you know I think you’re a great [person]. (2) I really have come to value you and depend on you in this company. (3) But I have to tell you, and I only tell you this as a friend: (4)From time to time I’ve noticed your breath could use a little work.”

He advices walking away from the person without apologizing. The hope is the the individual will manage any potential negative emotions and come to a place of acceptance on their own.

The strategy draws on portions of the dialogue model taught in Breakview’s relationship management course.

Let me share my thoughts and add some depth to David’s suggested lines.

I’ll use a four part model as a guide post.

1. State your mutual purpose

I like all the lines in the statement. However, I think line 2 captures everything critical to the start of a blunt, bold-faced approach to what could be a career or relationship ending confrontation. It’s basically making your value proposition explicit: what’s in it for them.

“I really have come to value you and depend on you in this company.”

If there are words worth stressing, they would be “value” and “depend”.  In my opinion, the line should never be delivered in haste. Plus, with the right body language, you can convey warmth and safety in a way that connects with the person.

2. Share the facts

I would add remarks from clients or colleagues after stating what’s in it for the person you are confronting. However, if it only concerns you and it has been ongoing, then jump directly to “from time to time..”

3. Share your opinion

The approach is built on the premise that what is an irritant to us is about meaning in context. There is always a subjective appraisal to every event or issue we encounter. One man’s poison is another man’s drink. There are people who hate the taste of alcohol, while others have acclimatized their pallet to its taste. I admit that If you enjoy alcohol that example might be hard to swallow.

“From time to time I’ve noticed your breath could use a little work.”

4. Invite the other person to share their meaning

I would avoid the walk away approach that David Eddie suggest. Why run?  Instead, use the power of silence. Allow the person to vent, even to give feedback. No need to apologize at all.

If there is no response on their part, thank them for considering your request. Even let them know that you are open to hear their thoughts and walk away.

If they respond with anger, it may also be prudent to use the contrasting technique to clarify your intentions by stating what you didn’t intend and what you did intend.

For example: “I didn’t intend to injure your self-esteem, I intended to close the loop on an issue that’s affecting our relationship.”

All in all, It’s really important to keep the environment safe and respectful even when you “go in bluntly”.

Next week I’ll address what to do if there is no change.

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