Business Communication · Organizational Development ·

If it walks like retaliation and looks like retaliation…

It happens. An employee we thought we knew, understood, and with whom we thought we had common ground – blindsides us with behaviors directed at us. Welcome to leadership. It’s up to you to lead by example, including not taking whatever the employee did or said personally. That’s right, even if the person went behind your back and criticized your performance.

However, supervisors and managers are human too, and sometimes we DO take things personally, get tired of employee shenanigans, and get angry at their attempts to undermine our efforts. Such was the case recently when a client talked with me about a situation he is facing.

“I messed up,” he began. “I messed up bad.” Yes, this was accurate. Like so many people, instead of being honest and open about his concerns with his manager, he waited until the person was out of town and bad-mouthed his leader to the team. Of course this got back to the manager.

If the manager had called me, a meeting with the employee would have been scheduled that included some of these questions:

  1. Although I wish you would have come to me directly, I’m glad I now know how you are feeling. To help me better understand the situation, can you please share with me why you didn’t talk with me directly? I’m concerned I may have done something that resulted in you not feeling comfortable talking with me.
    1. What would have to change for you to start coming to me directly when you have concerns?
  2. I want to learn from this situation. How long have you been feeling this way? What can you tell me about what triggered your frustration?
    1. Was there a time when you felt great about your job and our working relationship? If so – what changed? I want to understand this situation from your point of view.
  3. Ideally, what outcome were you hoping for when you talked to the team about your opinion of how I’m handling my role? Instead, how would you describe the outcome that resulted from your actions? If you could do things differently, how would you handle it now?
  4. Action plan for change co-created and signed by both people.
  5. Plan for follow-up.

According to my client, that’s not what happened. Instead, he was told there are issues with his performance and his team relationships – and that these issues have been going on for a long time. Really? Were these issues ever documented in his performance evaluations or coaching plans?

No. In fact, this employee has been nominated for company awards.

He was taken into a meeting with a higher level manager and he left that meeting believing his job is on the line. Maybe it should be – but not that way. If there were such serious issues, why did the manager wait until the employee spoke critically of him before taking action?

When I talk with managers or supervisors in similar situations as the one described, they most often tell me something like, “I HAVE talked to the person – repeatedly! He/she just doesn’t get it or doesn’t care.” So there it is. Clearly just talking about it isn’t working. Document a performance improvement plan and mentor the employee toward changed behaviors. Don’t wait until the performance review which many employees describe as the most de-motivating experience of the year.

Back to the employee: he admitted he didn’t handle any of the meetings well. When HR reached out to him, he ignored the invitation. He doesn’t know what to do. He is shutting down and he knows that probably isn’t helping. When he talked with me he was four weeks into the situation.

We discussed his options for demonstrating regret and the desire to earn back trust. I asked him if he wants to continue working for the company (he does – he’s been there almost ten years) and I was honest with him about the mandatory changes which must be demonstrated immediately if he is going to be given a second chance.

If you are a supervisor or manager reading this, and it’s crossing your mind that I might be writing about you…here’s the good news: by consistently documenting your employee coaching efforts throughout the year, you lessen the chances of your actions being interpreted as retaliation.

My focus is training front line employees, supervisors, and managers so they can reach their highest potential in their careers. I also taught college level Business Communication and Employee Readiness courses for 15 years. Employees and students tell me my courses change their lives for the better, and my evaluations consistently rate me as an engaged and motivational speaker. I decided to produce a podcast in the effort to support a broader audience of people in higher levels of job satisfaction and productivity, as well as encourage people to find jobs for which they are a good fit.

If you know anyone getting ready to start college, or even at a crossroads in life trying to put things back together in a positive way,  may I encourage you to give them my book, From Average Student to Academic Rock Star? This is my foundational college orientation available on Amazon in paperback. Set up like a workbook with action steps, this information has helped thousands of people get their goals on track. Some readers are purchasing it as a gift, and then deciding to keep it for themselves because of the life lessons addressed in the book.  Check it out on Amazon!

From Average Student to Academic Rock Star!

If you use a technique from the podcast or find any information especially useful, please jump on over to my website at and you can email me or post your feedback on twitter CatherineGoggia@goggia

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