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Enjoy this video transcript of this week’s Monday Moment episode.

Good morning and happy Monday! I’m Monica Wofford and this is your Monday Moment.

You ever feel like this is the setting of your office or the feeling you get from an online interaction? You’re backed into a corner and employees are picking a fight with you for which you may need to whip out your dukes and defend yourself? What do you do when an employee picks a fight with you? On occasion, it can happen in the context of coaching. When you’re delivering developmental feedback, or trying to help them improve or get better, that can come across, at times, as you are attacking who they are. It can sound like you’re making some sort of criticism about their character. So, when you’re coaching, whether you use the CHAT™ model, or a model called By Design™, or you simply have a hallway “drive-by” conversation, don’t let yourself get backed into a corner. Here are three steps to help you and keep you from adding to the fight picked with you by that employee.

First, let’s talk about what happens when that bell dings and the fight starts. There’s a number of reactions leaders often demonstrate. By far, these are most common, and by no means are they always the most effective. But, the three most common reactions, before we get to the three methods that may be more effective are as follows: Number one, of course, we fight back. So, “Oh yeah you’re gonna throw that punch at me so I’m gonna throw a punch at you”. Fighting back is one of the most common methods. It is holistically ineffective and just like kerosene to an already dangerous fire. The second reaction though is that we suck it in or hold it in or act like everything is great and have no reaction on our face. We’re simply in the state of processing. This is very common with introverts who prefer to process the details and information prior to having any sort of reaction and frankly, while they’re choosing what they would deem as the right reaction. That can also be damaging, but more so to the person doing it because there’s only so much room, as I’ve often said, to stuff stuff. Once you run out of room to stuff stuff, it’s all coming out in a rather volcanic sort of explosion, often at home when you’re with your loved ones. The third method that is most common before we get to the steps is what I usually call creative expression. Maybe it’s like the gesture you would show to someone who gets on your nerves in traffic or maybe it’s the innuendo or use of sarcasm, or words you share with a particularly loud-mouthed employee that you want to gossip about or the person who picked a fight with you in the first place. There are a number of methods to go about creative expression. Again, not helpful, but very tempting. Instead might I recommend if an employee picked a fight with you to try one, two, or three of these three methods.

Take a Break

The very first step is to take a break. Yes, take a break. Say something like: “I’m not prepared to have this conversation” and walk away. This would be one example. “I’ll come back in five minutes”. Do not say “when you’ve calmed down”. Just say “I’ll be back in 5 minutes” and walk away. Or try “Let’s reconvene this afternoon at 3. I’ve got to get to a meeting.” In other words, you’re not poking the bear, so to speak. You’re not adding any kind of negativity or any vitriol to the interaction if an employee who is picking a fight with you. The only way that fight ensues is if you let them. If you take the bait, you’re now part of the equation and sometimes that is extremely difficult to avoid. When it comes to temptation, if someone picks a fight with you, a knee jerk reaction might be to immediately come back at them and yet, in the role of leader, that is almost never your best option. Take a break. Find a way to walk away from that situation don’t let yourself get backed into the corner. Don’t let yourself be pushed into the corner of the ring so that when the bell rings you have to come out punching. Or even worse, come out dancing because you’re caught off guard in the situation. When this happens and employees are picking a fight with you or creating conflict and you’re the leader, your first, more effective move, is to take a break.

Shut Down the Personal

Secondly, when an employee picks a fight with you, shut down the personal. What I mean by shut down the personal is a whole different level of the phrase don’t take it personally. It’s hard when someone’s poking you, yelling at you, maybe calling you names or criticizing you, depending on the level of their attempt to pick that fight. It’s awfully darn hard not to take that as a personal attack or personal affront and yet, I’m going to suggest that instead of the age-old phrase don’t take it personally, (because it is personal if they’re talking to you or at least it feels that way) I’m going to suggest instead that you shut down the personal altogether. You don’t allow that thought process to grow in your mind. You do not give it any credence. You do not give it any time. In fact, you may even say things to yourself like “Thanks for playing. I am not interested in thinking about how this might be personal. Please take a moment to sit down in the waiting room of my brain. I’ll be with you later.” In other words, shut it down. Do not engage in any thought process in your mind, or any feeling in your heart, or combination of both. Don’t engage in any conversation of any kind of how it might be personal. Because once you engage the head or the heart; once you engage the emotions; it’s much more difficult to manage your behavior and as a leader, while you can get away with blowing your lid and apologizing maybe a couple of times with employees, if you do that on a regular basis, your apologies will start to lose credibility.

Address the Measurable

Third step. The first we had was to take a break second. Then we shut down the personal. Third, is your most effective method which includes finding another option. So, we shut down the personal, but now we’re going to address the measurable. What that means is find a way, in whatever the employee has said, done, or in the way they have responded to you with accusations, to make that attitude, behavior, or performance specifically measurable. This topic will come up again in upcoming Monday Moments because things that become measurable are then manageable. Find a way to address just a performance aspect or just the parts that you can identify and measure and tie to some sort of performance. This is valuable because the more you measure what you are looking at, the more you can measure the outcome of the behavior, or the reaction you’ve received. And the less likely the employee is to take your return message personally.

So, there we have it. What to do when an employee picks a fight with you. I may not be a boxer, but I will be bringing you more Monday Moments and I look forward to sharing them with you. If you’re not already in our corner of the Contagious Community let’s fix that! https://www.ContagiousCompanies.com is our main company website and to receive these podcasts and videos in your inbox directly (or share them with all of the team members you have the privilege of leading), go to MondayMoment.com. You’re also welcome to visit our YouTube channel whenever the mood strikes.

Have a great Monday, an even better week without those fights being picked, and of course, Stay Contagious!

Monica Wofford, CSP is a celebrated leader who develops future leaders. CEO of Contagious Companies, her firm delivers and designs leadership training for managers who’ve been promoted, but not prepared, and the leaders who promoted them. Author of Contagious Leadership and Make Difficult People Disappear, Monica and members of the Contagious team may be reached at www.ContagiousCompanies.com, www.MonicaWofford.com or by calling 1-866-382-0121.

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