I was promoted to customer service manager of a small group that used to be my co-workers. One of them constantly sighs and moans and makes noises and comments under her breath. She had a bit of a giggling fit this afternoon after discovering a huge mistake another customer representative made. This was taken personally after that customer representative found out about the error she made.
This person is very touchy and has a tendency to fly off the handle easily. How do I approach her about the noises and comments?”
It’s not easy managing your former peers. Where there was once friendship and camaraderie, now there is the authority factor. Where once you talked about the boss, now you are the boss. If you grumbled about a co-worker, now you are managing that person. Not to mention you are new at leadership, too!
I’m glad to see you aren’t turning a blind eye to the behavior in this case. Some managers have the mistaken notion that they can’t discuss anything they can’t measure. Not true. Inappropriate behavior is observable, and therefore, measureable. It can have a profoundly negative impact on the performance of the team – and needs to be addressed.
The customer service representative you describe seems immature at best. Laughing at a teammate’s mistake is unacceptable. You will not be able to build a highly functioning team with her sniping from the sidelines. Trust and respect are foundations of teamwork and it won’t grow if she continues to be disruptive and critical.
Her moans and comments under her breath are also out of line. If she is that unhappy, she needs to find something she enjoys, and not undermine the environment with her constant negative prattle.
This CR may be touchy and fly off the handle easily, but it is no reason to shy away from addressing this. In fact, that very reaction can be something you also talk about. Accepting coaching and feedback can be part of the mature, professional behavior you expect at work.
So here is a template for the meeting. I have painted a worst-case scenario. Hopefully, she will listen and change, but it often doesn’t go that way.
In a private place (not a restaurant), open the meeting with:
You: “Janice you don’t seem happy in your job.”
Janice: “What are you talking about?”
You: “I often hear you moaning and muttering under your breath. In fact the other day, I overheard you say (insert an example). I don’t think you would be saying things like that if you were happy.”
Janice: “I’m happy. I just am like that. I always talk to myself.” (Expect her to deny or deflect your question.)
You: “If you’re happy, that’s good. If you don’t enjoy your job, life is too short to spend it in a job that you don’t like. However, some of your recent behavior has been signaling that you aren’t happy. For example, when you mutter to yourself or make comments that are negative (insert the example of the giggling at a coworker’s mistake) it pulls the whole team down. It also doesn’t reflect well on you.”
Janice: “What are you talking about? I’m not negative. It was just a joke.”
You: “Let me give you some specific examples of how this hurts you and the team. When you made negative comments about Sue, she was very offended and it felt like you were glad she made a mistake. No one wants to feel ashamed or mocked when they make an error. I’m sure you wouldn’t like it. When you mutter to yourself, moan or roll your eyes, it’s not only distracting, it’s unacceptable. I am trying to build this team – and I expect each of you to be respectful and helpful with each other.”
Janice: (Yelling and/or crying) “I can’t believe I am hearing this! I work harder than anyone else on this team. They aren’t always nice to me, either, you know!”
You: (calmly) I am not talking about them right now. I’m talking about you. If they are not treating you with respect, that’s something I will address, but for right now, I’m talking about the behavior I want you to change.”
Janice: (Yelling, standing and getting ready to storm out of the room). “This isn’t fair. I hate this place and I hate them!”
You: “Sit down. This is the response I hoped I wouldn’t get. I had hoped I would have a heart-to-heart with you and you would be more reflective and at least make an attempt to listen and change. I have to tell you that if this behavior continues…or if you walk out of here and make comments to your co-workers – threatening, name calling, or anything else – I will take this to the next step and I would give you a disciplinary warning. If it continues, you could lose your job. I’d like you to go home and think about our discussion and come back tomorrow morning and let me know how you are going to change your behavior.”
This is a worst case scenario. Usually a frank conversation with consequences is the two-by-four the person needs. The choice is hers. In my experience, coddling her because you fear her reaction, or ignoring it and hoping it goes away, only makes it worse. Trust me on this one: if she does leave – or you end up asking her to leave – the rest of the team will thank you – and respect you. Hopefully, she will turn her behavior around, so in either case, you have nothing to lose by confronting it.
Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee-based executive coach, organizational and leadership development strategist with more than 20 years of experience. Email your question to Joan at email@example.com and visit www.JoanLloyd.com to search an archive of more than 1,500 of Joan’s articles. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 354-9500.