Sara, a customer service representative with your company can charm the socks off most any customer and have them eating out of her hand. She receives constant kudos on customer feedback forms. Co-workers, however, find Sara a little less charming. Sara reserves rudeness, sarcastic answers and the inability to deliver needed information for her co-workers. Is this Dr. Jekyll and Ms. Hyde personality something that is just “hard wired” into Sara’s personality and cannot be changed?
Bill is an IT supervisor who is knowledgeable, capable and runs a tight ship. However, getting information from Bill is like trying to push an elephant up a mountain. Bill is stubborn, withholds information others need and has no sense of urgency. If organizational change is in the air, Bill becomes Negative Nellie and is always the last to get on board with the changes, if ever. Is Bill’s behavior just a personality quirk that deserves overlooking by the rest of the staff?
These types of behaviors often bamboozle managers. When confronted with a Sara type, a manager once stated, “I guess it’s just her personality and you can’t expect someone to change their personality.” This kind of thinking gives tacit approval to the individual to continue with these types of behaviors. Therefore, ignoring it or accepting it only leads to more of it. These types of behaviors do have some basis in personality. However, non-productive, rude and conflict generating behavior is unacceptable in the workplace. So what’s a manager to do?
Let’s begin with Sara. Rude behavior for any reason is unacceptable. Sara needs confronting about her behavior. When doing so, be sure to address the behavior, not the person. Be specific in describing Sara’s behavior. Feedback should describe the behavior such as; "Sara, your co-workers say they dread calling you. They say that you answer the phone in a discourteous manner. They suggest that if they ask for some information, you then produce a long impatient sigh and then you reply, “I’ll get to it when I have the time, I’m busy, you’ll just have to wait your turn!'" Remind Sara that her co-workers are internal customers who are deserving of every bit of respect as an external customer. Give Sara a deadline to change her behavior. Find out about Sara’s progress through interviewing her internal customers. Next steps determine Sara’s progress or lack thereof.
In Bill’s case, there is no difference because his behavior is not as overt as Sara’s is. His behavior, too, is unproductive and produces conflict. Again, when addressing Bill about his behavior, be specific. For example, “Bill, Charles says he waited three weeks for a report that was a key piece of information to the ABC project. Can you tell me what kept you from providing the report for Charles in a timely manner?” Bill may have some excuse. Maybe he didn’t have some information he needed. Perhaps a piece of equipment malfunctioned. However, it is still up to Bill to do his job and to do it in a timely manner. Ask him for ideas on handling these circumstances in a better manner. Again, monitoring his response to his internal customers is essential. Be sure to set a date for a follow-up discussion with Bill. Next steps depend on Bill’s level of improved customer service.
While these behaviors do have some foundation in personality, changing them is not impossible. Indeed, in some cases, it’s imperative that changes take place. It should be up to employees to settle disagreements. On the other hand, allowing work slowdowns, inappropriate behavior, poor customer service, and disrespect cannot be allowed to fester. An infection will take hold, spreading throughout the organization reducing employee morale and the bottom line. Behavioral change is an inexpensive cure for such a devastating disease.
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