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Be Prepared When Confronting an Anger-Prone Employee

Its time for you to get a box and Marie Kondo your office and your team

By Beth Halvorsen July 10, 2019

Young stressed secretary in the office overwhelmed by work and desk full of files, her boss is bringing more paperwork to her

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Seattle magazine.

This story appears in the July 2019 issue. Click here for a free subscription.

Q: I just took a new job as a supervisor, and there are two underperforming (and somewhat backstabbing) employees I need to fire. One of them, in particular, very much concerns me. She can be somewhat hotheaded. Im afraid of her reaction when I have to let her go. I fear she could get violent (by that I mean throw things off my desk), and I also worry that she simply wont leave. We have a security guard in the building, but Id like to avoid that messy confrontation if possible.

Dear Firing Manager: Ive actually had my car vandalized (by that I mean a not-so-nice word etched into the paint of my car in the parking lot) by a hothead, so you are on the right track in thinking through a few what-if scenarios before you schedule the actual termination. With that said, its definitely time for you to get a couple cardboard boxes and Marie Kondo your office and your team. Remove the clutter and energy a hotheaded, volatile employee infuses into your culture, and take control. And while youre at it, de-clutter your desktop so there isnt anything to throw! Wouldnt it be great if everyone acted like grown-ups at work?

But in all seriousness, you need to anticipate the tantrum, document the performance issues, write a scripted message so the conversation stays concise and doesnt escalate, and have a third person present. Some companies provide human resources, legal support and sometimes more. But if it were me, Id have the meeting in the front conference room with the door open. Just saying.

Q: Im at a critical crossroads in my career. Ive been given the opportunity for a promotion over two other colleagues who wanted the job. Can you give me any advice on how you would handle it? I also need some advice on how to negotiate a salary increase.

Dear Compensation Matters: I wouldnt call this a crossroads. This is your invitation to the big leagues take the promotion, youve got this! But before you accept the job, dont let your boss offer you a promotion with added responsibilities and workload and then say, Well talk about comp later, or trust that you will be taken care of and allow the discussion to go unspoken. No tiptoeing! Seize the moment and be prepared.

Do your homework on what the position is worth in your market. Do you have a sense of what your predecessor was making? Be direct and ask for a written offer, including your new title, compensation and any new benefits that may come with the role, so that you can make an informed decision. I cant tell you how often I was in a position of promoting someone on my team and they accepted the first offer that was presented to them. Talent is in high demand, and your boss is expecting a negotiation. They may not be able to get you exactly what you expect, but you need to ask. Who knows, you may be pleasantly surprised.

Now, lets talk about those colleagues. Imagine some hurt feelings, disappointment, resentment, even envy. Dont avoid the conversation. Its not going to be easy but empathetic leadership is going to be your superpower. When I transitioned from being a manager to leading a management team of my former peers in Portland, Oregon, many years ago, one of the greatest lessons I learned was to listen and observe before making any huge changes. And you need to make a mental adjustment. You earned this role, and now you can take steps to earn peoples respect as a leader.

Heres a helpful tool I like to use in these circumstances: Listen, Empathize, Acknowledge and Deliver (LEAD). Meet with your colleagues one-on-one, listen to them, encourage a conversation about the elephant in the room, empathize with their disappointment, acknowledge their contributions and skills, and commit to working with them to continue to create growth opportunities for them. Then, deliver on your commitments.

Got a question? Send it to [email protected]

Beth Halvorsen is the former managing director of asset services for CBRE Inc. in Seattle, where she forged a successful career by overcoming a slew of obstacles in a male-dominated industry. She now helps others navigate tricky, complex workplace issues, including how to deal with difficult colleagues and situations.

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