Why Supervisors Struggle to Confront Employees

Why Supervisors Struggle to Confront EmployeesMatthew Brandt, Employee Confrontation, Lead, Leadership, Accountability Cop, Keynote Speaker, Author

by Matthew G. Brandt

Have you ever sat back and watched your supervisor tolerate a disruptive or poor performing employee? Day after day, seemingly the same employee does little to no work, finds excuse after excuse as to why they can’t get their work done. From habitual sick leave abuse, to simple bullying in the workplace; supervisors more often than not, fail to act.  Knowing why supervisors struggle in the first place is a great start.

Why is this? I mean it’s obvious to me as well as the rest of the entire office that certain employees are never held accountable for their negative work performance. In many instances, the failing employee is lumped into the office as a whole and the problem is never addressed. Upper management sees the results of the office or team failures and hold the first line supervisor accountable for his or her action. However they too fail to address the root of the problem, the one problem employee.

It’s in our DNA

As human beings we are faced with managing our internal functions of the species and trying to succeed in a business function. The two were never really meant to cross paths with each other. We all have probably heard at some point about the “fight or flight” mechanism that is built into our DNA. This is what humans rely on to help us in times of extreme stress alertness when our body perceives real danger is present.

Have you ever had someone jump out and scare you? Have you ever been startled by a loud noise, a car backfiring, maybe a door slamming? Of course, we all have, and we all have reacted in the very same way. Remember how it made you take in a big gasp of breath? How your eyes opened a little wider, your heart felt like it might jump out of your chest? All these are reactions that are completely normal to the human body. Might this be part of why supervisors struggle at times?

As soon as your body perceives (and that’s key here) that in some way, your survival is in danger, it prepares you to flee or fight. Both have good options for the reasons it was intended (to save your life) however, rarely is that the intended need in most cases. Our bodies don’t know or understand the difference though.

It’s All About the Hormones

At that moment of surprise, your body dumps a ton of hormones into your system. The what, where and when is an article or paper all of its own. For this example I’ll leave it at that. So the hormones dump and your body reacts. Your heart does in fact begin to pump rapidly. Supplying much needed blood to the large smooth muscles in your body. Legs, arms, core and pulling back some blood flow to the smaller extremities like your fingers and toes. This allows you to run and or fight. It does not however allow you to do small tactile things (fine motor skills with your fingers) for example. Many will notice this when they try to write while they are in high stress situations, it just often is very difficult.

Also, your pupils expand, letting in more light to better see what threat is before you. Your breathing increases, again to help oxygenate the needed blood flow through your heart to your muscle groups. It all works in coordination with each other at the time of perceived need.

Why is this important to know you ask? Remember the word perceived I mentioned earlier? Our bodies are so good at helping us survive when there is stress or surprise or difficult situations before us, that it really doesn’t know the difference. Most of us have these hormone dumps often, but for non-life threatening reasons.

Some professions have these all the time. Police Officers, Firefighters, Correction Officers and such. There are other professions, but you can understand how these people deal with high stress confrontation of their lives fairly often. As such they learn how to better handle and recognize the signs of this human function.

Business World Confrontation

In a majority of business professions there are of course stressful days, but not always “alert” stress situations. Until that is, it’s time to deal with a problematic employee. When you as a supervisor recognize the time and need confront an employee about a workplace behavior or performance issue, your body say’s “fight or flight!”

Your first reaction is to flee. That is absolutely normal for any human when faced with a stressor of any kind. Remove yourself from the situation and the stress will go away. Staying to fight, is not natural and not desirable because of the potential implications on your body. As it goes for the first line supervisor who has to speak with that troubled employee. Ignore the problem (flee) and hope someone else will eventually correct the behavior. Or, that the employee will self-correct his/her behavior and everyone will be happy. We all know neither of those actually ever work or ever happen.

This is the reason behind why a majority of supervisors, managers and even senior leaders fail to take appropriate action with these employees. Humans are naturally afraid of confrontation, notably some worse than others, but all are to some degree. It’s how we react, or how we control our human DNA and hormone dump that will help us the most. Knowing why supervisors struggle is the first step.

Police Officers and others learn from a lot of experience in recognizing these signs of stress and its reaction to the body. They learn to breath more efficiently, control their fine motor skills, and confront a bad situation with the greatest ability and success.

Stay In Control

If any of this describes how you feel and react when confronted with any stress, don’t worry, you’re not alone. The entire world population has the same issue. Some have just figured out how to better manage it when the time comes. You can too!

As you find yourself having to actually confront an employee about behavior or performance issues, first remember to breath. Recognize your body needs oxygen now more than ever. The more oxygen, the better you can control your reaction. Slow down, there is no rush! Practice what you want to say, and what your end result is that you wish. Is it notification, is it training, is performance enhancement, whatever it is you need to get across, know that going in.

Set the stage, it’s your conversation and you want to control it. Prepare your office, set up the conference room or whatever the venue is, be in control. It will help you manage your reaction when those stress hormones dump, and they will dump we know. Practice with a colleague when you are new at it. This will help you get experience with talking through the hormone dump and being a better leader in the eye of the employee.

You Are Normal

In the end, recognize that you are in a stressful situation as a supervisor or leader. The employee you need to discuss behavior or performance will also be in stress when it’s time to talk. Now you know a little bit of why supervisors struggle. We all operate under the same chemical makeup. You as the leader have to be able to recognize it sooner, control it better, and work through it quicker. That’s one reason you are in the position to lead. Go lead!

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