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Managing Escalating Behaviours

Managing Escalating Behaviours

If a staff member’s surprised by your more assertive style and perceives your challenge to be confrontational, stay in control of the situation.  Calmly reiterate the problem and the evidence you have to back up your claims, and define the improvements you need to see.  Continue to be kind, assertive and consistent.  The other person would like you to go back to your less assertive style really as that works well for them.  It allows them to continue to under-perform or behave badly and still get paid!  What’s not to like?! 

Your more assertive style might make them feel disconcerted initially and they might fight to get things back to the way they were.  They might say something like “have you been on a course recently, you seem very bossy all of a sudden?”.  Keep smiling, and keep the focus on them, their performance, their behaviour.  By remaining calm and delivering consistent messages, the staff member’s reaction will usually settle and over time most staff members will respect the time you’re taking to address an issue, with a kind, compassionate and assertive approach.

If a staff member’s becoming annoyed, frustrated or angry about a situation and their tone of voice is rising, you can explain that you share their frustrations, if that’s appropriate but don’t match their tone.  By staying calm and acknowledging their frustrations, you give them the space to calm down more quickly. 

If both your voices are raised it’s harder to de-escalate the situation and bring a calmer approach back to the conversation.  You might say “I can see you’re getting frustrated and I totally understand why that is but we’re not going to resolve anything while you’re feeling angry”.  It can be useful to let someone rant for a minute, that allows them to vent their frustrations and move forward but don’t allow that to continue for too long.  Your time’s not being used effectively if you do allow that to happen and there’ll be less time available to find a solution to the issue.

Define your unacceptable behaviours, to support yourself to make assertive decisions if a difficult conversation escalates.  An escalated, confrontational situation might never happen but you’ll behave more assertively in the meetings you do have, if you go in with a very clear sense of what’s OK and what’s not. 

A confrontational situation is never pleasant so while it’s important to stay as professional as possible in the moment, make sure you look after yourself after the event.  Take some time out and de-brief the conversation with your own Line Manager if that’s possible.  You’re still the staff member’s Line Manager and the situation does need to be dealt with but don’t underestimate the impact on you, of having to do that. 

People who respond aggressively can be very intimidating, it’s much easier to avoid those conversations.  But that’s why they do it; to get their own way and avoid being held to account.  So use all of your reserves of energy to keep going to make sure the issue is dealt with effectively. 

You can find out more about how to manage escalating behaviours effectively in chapter 5 of Karen Warren’s online training programme Managing Difficult Conversations to Achieve Successful Outcomes.