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I Think I Just Got Kicked From Behind

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Dear Sally
Weekly Advice Straight From The Horse’s Mouth.

Dear Sally,

I have an employee who recently challenged me on a decision but in a disrespectful way. His tone of voice, eye contact and posture said “I’m right and and I won’t even listen and consider what you have said”. Even after my repeated attempted to explain why I disagreed with him, his behavior didn’t soften. This was the first time since I’ve hired him over a year that I’ve seen this behavior, but several of his colleagues have come to me and told me stories about how they have been offended by him. In addition, during presentations he will talk on and on without checking in with the group to see if they are still with him. I addressed the issue in his review telling him he needs to work on building his relationships and listening to what others say before asserting his strong opinion. I offered to help him explore this if he wanted help. But he hasn’t asked. However now that he has been disrespectful to me as well, I feel I need to take more action. Any recommendations?

From, I-think-I-just-got-kicked-from-behind

Dear Kicked,

Sounds like you have a cowboy running a one-man rodeo, wrestling dissenters to the ground: It’s either my way or the highway! I suggest turning him loose on that highway. No, just kidding! Sort of. It’s just that these kind of people really push our buttons.

Nobody likes an opinionated jerk who bulldozes everybody around them and then gets argumentative when you push back. It’s hard to have compassion or patience for this type of behavior, especially after it’s gone on for a while. But that’s exactly what this situation calls for.

Take a deep breath for a moment and look at things from his perspective. When someone gets disrespectful, argumentative, or aggressive, what they’re usually saying is: “I’m scared.” I know it’s hard to see through all the posturing, but the root cause of this type of behavior is usually someone who’s terrified about what it will mean if they don’t get their way. They internalize not getting their way as being wrong. They internalize being wrong as not being good enough. And they internalize not being good enough as not being lovable. When we can look at things in this way, that cowboy’s spurs suddenly don’t seem all that big.

Now, let’s be clear. Being in compassion does not mean being a doormat. It’s very clear from your message that this person is in need of some massive boundaries. The rules of the pasture are very simple: You are welcome to be here if you contribute to the peace and well-being of everyone else. If you don’t, you’re likely to be asked to hit the road, usually with a few hoof-prints on your ass. After all, drama and conflict take a lot of energy and are stressful. Us mammals need to conserve our energy!

It sounds like this has been going on for quite some time. Unfortunately, his colleagues are complaining to you instead of giving the feedback directly to him. As a manager, you need to correct this behavior immediately. You can coach your employees about how to deliver appropriate feedback, but you may not cater to their whining or gossip.

Next, you need to have a serious sit down with this individual. I would look at this as resetting the ground rules. You need to let him know that you are supportive of his work, growth and development (I’m sure he already knows this) but that you are NOT OKAY with being disrespected. It might sound something like this: “Hey Cowboy. We need to talk about a few things. I want you to know that I value your contributions to our organization, and that I enjoy working with you. I think you add a lot to our team. You have intelligent and interesting observations. In this organization, I welcome feedback, opinions, and healthy debate. I don’t expect you to agree with everything I decide. However, when I make a decision you don’t like, I am not OK with being disrespected. The tone of your voice, your eye contact, and your body posture, were all very disrespectful to me in our last interaction. I understand that you’re upset that things didn’t go your way, but I am not OK with your choice of behavior in that moment. If that type of disrespect is shown to me, or anyone else in this organization again, I will act immediately on it. I like you and I want you to take this feedback in the spirit it is intended, which is in kindness and compassion. Do you have any questions?” You’re probably going to have to remind him about this boundary from time to time. But now that you’ve had the reset conversation, bringing it up should be easier.

Just remember…as the “lead mare” in your organization it’s your job to let folks know how things are done in your pasture!

Love, Sally