Conversations with employees about disruptive behavior should be timely, highlight specific actions you have observed and focus on what the person can do differently in the future, writes MGR360 CEO Alicia Thrasher. If the encounter becomes tense, Thrasher suggests using the phrase “Can we start over?” as a reset.



It wasn’t my first difficult conversation as a manager, but it was one of the toughest.At the time, I was working as a consultant on a program for a large, household-name company. The team I led consisted of project managers who oversaw lots of data specialists and other technical types, all dispersed across the globe.

Well, I started to hear a lot from one particular corner of this team. One of my PMs apparently had a pretty toxic management style—toxic even by the standards of a relatively aggressive corporate culture. One . . . then two . . . then three of her direct reports came to me about what they perceived as this manager’s very rude, cutting style.

One by one, I listened to their complaints. They seemed at the end of their ropes, almost hopeless. And some of her behavior did sound beyond the pale.So I coached each of these employees on strategies for dealing with her, how to defuse situations and avoid her wrath.

But I didn’t do the one simple thing I should have: Talk to this person herself.

Eventually, though, as the complaints continued to roll in, I realized I had no choice: I needed to have what sounded like an extremely difficult and awkward conversation. After weeks of dread and putting it off, I set up the meeting and broke it to her: “Your team is really upset. They feel that you are disrespectful and rude to them on a daily basis.”

The mood of the conversation was quite a roller coaster. It started combative: She denied the behavior, wanted names of who said what about then. Then it moved to surprise. She’d been totally oblivious to how she was coming across. For her, a cutting style was just how you got things done. Finally, after I’d given her several specific examples (while guarding my sources), she began to see the issue.