Intimidating behavior is a serious problem once it occurs. No one would like to face any form of intimidation: neither in our work environment, nor in any personal area. It truly affects our thinking and doing.
When we define intimidating behavior, we notice the following distinctive forms:
- Abusive behavior
In this article I will focus on another, sometimes overlooked form of intimidating behavior. Namely, underperforming employees with intimidating behavior such as:
- Resistance to learn and resistance to follow the company protocols
- Resistance to adapt to the team structure
- Lying and arrogant behavior towards staff, customers and co-workers
This may result in intimidating behavior in cases when staff members and co-workers are too afraid to stand up against these types of behavior.
In my working experiences I have seen it happening quite a lot around me: colleagues being too scared to speak their mind, believing confrontation will lead to more tension.
Luckily, I have been less afraid of confronting people, understanding the urgency of discussing the problem.
I believe the more a leader is interested in personal growth, the less they will avoid facing the difficult parts of leadership: which means confronting and leading when a healthy work environment is negatively affected by underperforming intimidating behavior.
However, in my job as a supervisor it has never been easy! There are easy confrontations, but also very difficult ones. I’m talking of those conversations where I have to prepare myself at best, keeping the conversation strictly business so that no form of personal attack can take place.
While sometimes deep inside I would rather just speak up the truth as it is.
I’ve eventually learned that even the most intimidating person struggles with themselves.
- I worked with an employee who had been underperforming for quite some time. Due to his somewhat arrogant attitude it was very difficult to provide feedback. His lying didn’t make it any easier as well. One day, a conversation led to a conflict.He thought that I, as a supervisor, didn’t like him. I, however, was keeping my distance, while treating the relation as pure business, because I’m sensitive to underperforming behavior.I can’t be friends at work with someone who, after continuous efforts of the management to help him, does not improve the quality of his work and has a negative impact on the targets of the company. This probably affected his behavior, thinking that I’m that supervisor who picks easily on him for no reason.
I could have left the conflict there easily as it was, but this would not have improved the situation. After we discussed our concerns we could work in a better productive manner.
The conversation also gave space to confront his behavior in a clear way.
This example doesn’t mean we should allow underperforming behavior, but it demonstrates we should seek means for our own personal growth as well as for the company’s benefit. We should talk about it, not avoid it.
Was this conversation easy? Absolutely not. It was one of the most difficult conversations I’d ever had. When you sense a certain intimidating aura, all your senses act differently. You are then feeling that you must be constantly alert of what could go wrong when a person doesn’t take his responsibilities seriously. You think of all the dramatic effects this can have on customers for example when a team member delivers poor quality work.
I will continue with my work mentality: providing feedback, confronting when necessary, because as a leader, creating a safe environment is one of my top priorities. Safety means: working and respecting the protocols of the company in every form. Anyone who shows lack of commitment, unwillingness to grow together, and therefore intimidating behavior, needs to be reminded what behavior is allowed and what isn’t.
At the same time it doesn’t mean that all these confrontations will solve every problem. Some people are not the right fit for the company, no matter how much you try. You can go a long way with them and they will certainly learn something. You can make an effort if you have the time and money for it, but there are no guarantees you’ll get the desired outcome.
However, conflict and confrontation will always lead to a new way to improve the company’s state, provided they are done effectively and from a clear policy perspective.
What you can do
There are several techniques to confront effectively a person showing underperforming intimidating behavior.
1. First note to all CEO/managers
In many articles on conflict handling it is mentioned that a manager should not choose sides. I disagree. A manager and leader in general should always investigate the truth. Which side of the truth comes closer and shows parallels to the company’s norms and values?
I agree that it is not recommended to choose a side before you have investigated both sides; a manager should be willing to hear both sides of the story.
I have had the most successful conflict handling conversations when my opinions were backed up by my upper manager. But even if you don’t have this opportunity, please do not be scared to confront in a clear way.
I have also never known in advance where the confrontation would lead, I had no 100% guarantee that I would be backed up by my upper manager. Please stand up for yourself. What I did learn is you will be respected when you tackle the issue from a reasonable point.
2. Be aware of what intimidating behavior leads to:
- Your employee/colleague who lies about several tasks? Don’t be surprised he tells lies to customers as well.
Solution: tackle the problem right away. Go deeper into the conversation and demonstrate directly how you want the situation to be and focus less on knowing about his lies.
- Your employee/colleague is being arrogant when you provide feedback?
Don’t be surprised that he can’t improvise when tasks get difficult. He will not have a problem-solving mentality which will push customers away from your company when they have specific needs.
Solution: Personally I would not hire such employees, but it can happen to be in a environment where decision making is made by other staff management.
In this case: talk to the upper manager and provide examples of the intimidating behavior. Mention you need the space to perform your job in the best way by having the possibility to provide feedback freely and openly.
Key points: the importance of following the protocols of the company and provide examples of his poor work behavior effecting targets.
In addition: talk with your employee/colleague about how others behave differently and how the behavior of other team members is well appreciated. Provide clear examples and avoid personal language.
3. Last but not least: focus on the productivity of your team.
Main concern: “People don’t leave jobs, they leave managers.’’ When people have to work in a work environment with tension this will affect their behavior as well.
However, the reality check is people need their job. Some people will unfortunately tolerate intimidating behavior, because they don’t want to lose their job.
Solution: If people have more knowledge that conflict and confrontation improve the situation, and not worsen it, the less likely it is for intimidating behavior to get a chance to grow.
Not all companies have created an environment where they can freely provide feedback without attacking each other personally yet. I’ve seen numerous articles written on how this depends on the manager who is in lead, but sometimes managers can be stuck on this as well. Sometimes managers are closing their eyes, because they find it truly difficult to confront and are lacking knowledge on how to do this effectively.
Unfortunately, if we keep avoiding, we damage the long-term results of a company. An employee who still can’t adapt to his work environment — even after 10 years at the company — is a clear example of this.
When companies are stuck with this kind of behavior, their bright future is threatened.
I hope all leaders take a stand, since adequate leadership is an intriguing road. It provides possibilities to handle problems effectively.
When we take the lead in our life and work environments, we allow ourselves to grow to our highest potential. Our highest potential is what we are truly meant for: performing in the best way we possibly can.