Kendall L. Stewart, M.D.
Why are leaders hesitant to do this?
Attaching unpleasant consequences to unpleasant behavior is unpleasant for the leader who attaches them. No one enjoys confronting a colleague, even one who has behaved badly. And colleagues who have behaved badly in the past are likely to behave badly again. Leaders are tempted to put the whole unpleasant mess out of their minds. Moreover, leaders are always amazed at the reluctance of victims to stand up for themselves and document exactly what happened. People are eager to complain, but they are hesitant to do anything more than that.
What is the case for doing it anyway?
People who misbehave in the workplace are defective. They have failed to develop the internal controls that normal people acquire. They require adult supervision. Failure to attach unpleasant consequences when they vent their immature spleens invites them to behave even worse the next time they are annoyed. And your colleagues are watching you closely. If you fail to respond appropriately your credibility as a leader will suffer.
How can you do it?
1. Complete your investigation promptly. Talk to everyone who was present and obtain the dispassionate documentation that will enable you to hold the perpetrator accountable.
2. Confront the accused with the evidence promptly. It is only fair that she be able to see and challenge others’ accounts of what happened. If the documentation is detailed, objective and complete that compelling evidence will trigger unpleasant shame and embarrassment.
3. Place the investigation and your conclusion in a permanent file. Be sure to include the accused person’s comments. His rebuttal will demonstrate his innocence and support your conclusion that no inappropriate behavior occurred on those rare occasions when a colleague just overreacts. Most of the time, his weak, defensive excuses will confirm his quilt and unreasonableness. Rarely, those who misbehave will take full responsibility, apologize and make amends. While this is temporarily unpleasant for the wrongdoer, it is the best possible outcome after an outburst has occurred.
4. When a pattern of misbehavior is evident, take the appropriate administrative action. This may include removing your colleague from the organization. Capable leaders do not permit disruptive people to poison the atmosphere for everyone else. When the best employees conclude that bad behavior will not result in adverse consequences for the tyrant, they will leave for greener employment pastures.
How do you attach unpleasant consequences to disruptive behavior in your organization?