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Conflict Management Meetings are Good Practice With Toxic Employees

Danny Kerr April influencer
May 26, 2022 at 10:00 a.m.

RCS Influencer Danny Kerr says that a misalignment of values is at the root of toxic employees. 

Editor’s note: The following consists of a conversation between RCS Multi-media Manager, Megan Ellsworth, and Breakthrough Academy Director of Assessment Danny Kerr. You can listen to the podcast or read the transcript below. 

Megan Ellsworth: Hello, everyone. My name is Megan Ellsworth here at rooferscoffeeshop.com. And we're back again for the April Influencer Response with Danny Kerr from Breakthrough Academy. Hi Danny. 

Danny Kerr: Hey, thanks for having me. 

Megan Ellsworth: All right, so this month's topic has been really interesting, I've loved hearing everyone's opinions. And the question is, how do you deal with toxic employees? So, what do you do with that? 

Danny Kerr: So when I look at, generally, what's going on in most people's teams, it's usually a values misalignment. There's usually something going on where their core values are different than the company's core values. And there's a general rub. And the result of that is thousands of different things that can come out of that, but it's usually a values misalignment. And in that case, if that's true, it's usually not going to be a fit. There usually has to be an exit. 

Before you do that, a good best practice that I've always put in place, and we teach a lot of our members to put in place is to do a proper, what I would call it, conflict management meeting. And essentially, what that is, it's a time to seek first to understand what's really going on. And then, seek to be understood, if that kind of makes sense, in the simplest form. 

Megan Ellsworth: Yeah, totally. 

Danny Kerr: Right. So if this is a toxic employee, chances are, you're kind of pissed off at them, and all you want to do is tell them off, and get more mad at them, which is only going to increase the chasm between you and them. And it's best to say, "Hey, look, that's maybe how I feel, but that's not gonna actually solve the issue." And if that's how I feel, and that's all I'm going to do, then you might as well let the person go 'cause it's not going to leave anywhere. But if you want to give it a real shot and see if there's a chance to save this relationship, and save a good person, potentially that could be on your team, but there's just something in the way do a conflict management meeting. 

And what that kind of looks like is you first let them know, "Hey obviously X, Y, Z things been going on. I know both of us are at each other's throats, or whatever. This is causing X, Y, Z issue. I'd love to meet with you. Maybe tomorrow we can grab lunch together. And let's actually get into it a bit and see if we can figure this out." So give them some warning and actually set a time for it. Don't just attack them randomly on a Tuesday in between their work. So, set a time. An intention and a time for that. Then, meet with them. 

And the first smart part of the conversation should not be you being ready to attack them with all the things. It's, "Hey, all I want to do right now is just hear what's going on? What's going on at work? What's going on with John? What's going on at home?" Just find out what's really going on. And hear what is their point of view, and their perspective. And just openly and actively, this is the hardest part, is actively listen. Because, again, it's very easy to hear what they're saying and you're like, "Well, yeah, but that's because of this. Well yeah, because you didn't do that." All you want to do is just tell them off. So it's you got to shut your brain down for a second and it's actively hear what's really going on. 

When you hear it, and when you feel like you've really understood what they're really saying, repeat back to them that. "So, what I'm hearing you say is it's been a rough six months at home. It's caused you to kind of like dip a bit at work. And you are mad because nobody cares. And we're just working you to the bone. And we're just pushing harder and harder on you." Whatever the thing is, summarize it. That helps them feel heard. 

Megan Ellsworth: Absolutely. 

Danny Kerr: It is now your job to actually tell them how you feel. And not to do it in an attacking way, but to focus on the behavior versus focus on the person. And say, "Cool, do you mind if I tell you a little bit of what's going on our end as a result of all this? I've seen in this scenario, this happen. And when this happened, this is what it caused in this scenario." And so, just point out very specific scenarios. Don't be general where it's like, "You're generally being a jerk." Just tell them specific things that have come up, and what the result on your side, and what the perspective has been. 

And sometimes they listen, sometimes they won't. But the hope is that they can hear you. And if you've taken time to hear them first, you highly increase the chance of them hearing you. And all you're doing during this whole conversation isn't to go and say, "From now on we're going to go do this," it's to actually find common ground. Is there some common ground where both of you can agree on something you both want, but maybe aren't achieving? And when you establish that kind of common ground with somebody, a lot of times that red tape, or that whatever, bureaucracy crap that's in the way melts away. And suddenly, you've got two people that are willing to kind of figure it out together. 

So, that's a conflict management meeting. And they're very important to do when you're at the end of your rope with somebody. And you're like, "I've yelled at this person and I've done everything I possibly can to bring them over." Have you actually taken time to seek first to understand, and then seek to be understood? 

Megan Ellsworth: Would you say that...That is so important. I think actually listening. And a lot of other people, or a handful of our influencers have mentioned instead of just dismissing the toxic traits, and firing right off the bat, or anything asking them like, "Are you okay? What's going on?" And so, I think you just put a step-by-step solution to what everyone else has been saying. And I love that 'cause that's so helpful, as kind of a visual learner. 

So, would you say that this might be the first step that people can do rather than having that freak out, or yelling, or anything? Or kind of addressing this in this way first with maybe an employee that's "toxic?" 

Danny Kerr: Absolutely. Yeah no, it's funny when I talk to our members, it's like, "I have a problem with this employee, or this member...." Or sorry, "This client," or whatever, any the conflicts you have in your life it's, "Have I taken time to apply some conflict management to this first?" And it's not natural to us to do. We're all very fight or flight response type people. That's how our brains are tuned. And when there's emotions involved, it takes over. But we can actually slow our brains down and say, "Well, I know that's how I feel, but maybe I'll try this first, and see what happens," it's usually the more tactile approach. 

Megan Ellsworth: Absolutely. Honestly, so true, even in personal life, I feel like I needed to hear this and that's totally a reasonable way to approach a tough situation. 

Danny Kerr: Totally. 

Megan Ellsworth: So, very wise words. Any last tips to a contractor that's having to be in this situation? 

Danny Kerr: Just know that at some level people are doing what they feel is right. And it's probably what's right for them, which is fine. That's how all humans are built. I'm a true believer there is no such thing as altruism. We all do things, even if they seem selfless because we even get something out of it. So, at some level, this person is doing what they feel is right. So, figure out what that is, and why that is. And see if you can unpack that to the level where you guys can get back to being on the same page. 

Megan Ellsworth: Absolutely. Well, thank you so much, Danny. This has been great. And we will chat in May. 

Danny Kerr: Sounds good. 

Megan Ellsworth: Thanks. 

Danny Kerr is the director of assessment of Breakthrough Academy. See his full bio here

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