5 Tips for Talking with a Toxic Employee

If you’ve been in business for a while, chances are you’ve experienced a toxic employee or two. If you haven’t, there’s a decent chance you will at some point in the future, so this still applies to you. Whether it’s someone who has a propensity to gossip and spread rumors, is a chronic underperformer, is always stirring up drama or views co-workers as their competition, having a toxic team member can be detrimental to your practice’s success.

As an owner or manager, it’s your job to get wayward employees back on the right track and, if necessary, cut them loose if you determine there’s no way to resolve the situation. Sitting down with the bad apple in question can be an uncomfortable experience to say the least – especially if he or she is confrontational or combative. But given the negative impact a toxic employee can have on your bottom line, these tough conversations are absolutely necessary. Here’s how to make them a little easier.

Start by asking them to share their feelings.

Approach the situation like a dialogue rather than a monologue. Sure, you’ll have your list of concerns and complaints, but remember that the person sitting across from you is just that – a person. A human being. And there’s a decent chance that there are some underlying feelings that might be causing the behavior in question. So, start the conversation by inviting them to share their feelings. Then, when they’ve had a chance, share yours. Try to use constructive words, like “curious,” “concerned” and “determined.”

Be calm and clear.

If you want to get to the bottom of the problem, you have to be willing to go below the surface and have a real conversation. Simply stating, “I’ve got some concerns I’d like you to work on” is a great way to start the discussion, but you’ll need to push further into the specifics of what those concerns are and, more importantly, what needs to change and how. It’s important that you remain calm and empathetic throughout the meeting. If emotions start to bubble up or the employee begins to become combative, suggest taking a short 10 minute break and then reconvene to finish the talk.

Hear them out.

Again, in order for these types of meetings to be successful, there needs to be a dialogue back and forth. You want your employee to feel heard and understood. As such, follow up your concerns with open-ended questions that allow for further elaboration. For instance, if the employee is chronically late for his shift, you might ask him to share some details about his typical morning routine and what roadblocks might be hindering his ability to arrive on time. If the employee is constantly complaining to other team members, address the issue and ask for her feedback.

Create a blueprint for resolution.

Don’t just tell the employee she needs to shape up or ship out. Lay out the specific steps she needs to take in order to improve on the areas in question and include a time line and consequences. Work together to develop this blueprint and talk through each point so that everyone is on the same page. Be sure to supply the employee with a copy and check in with them at specified intervals (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.) to assess progress and determine shifts in direction. Be prepared to follow through on the consequences if necessary.

Circle back to feelings.

To gauge the employee’s receptiveness to the conversation, end by asking her again to share how she is feeling. Negative or defensive feelings may be an indicator that the employee isn’t onboard with the changes and that the situation may not end the way you’d hoped. You should also let her know how you feel about the discussion and action plan you’ve set in place by using words like “hopeful,” “determined,” and “excited.”

As a practice owner, difficult conversations are unavoidable. In fact, they are necessary if you are to maintain a positive, healthy culture amongst the rest of your team. The good news is, the more you carry out these discussions, the easier they’ll become and the quicker you’ll be able to identify when an employee has the potential to improve or when it’s time to move on.

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