An "Inclusive" Difficult Conversation

“We need to tell him to shape up, or his time here could be over soon!” That was the one-line outcome of a discussion I had just completed with a manager about a colleague’s behavior. This colleague was indeed under the scanner. His choice of words was usually not the wisest. He had got into trouble a number of times before. The patience of those who worked with him seemed to be running low. I decided to have a conversation with him the day after. I wondered what approach I should take in the discussion. Could I communicate to him that his behavior was bordering on unacceptable while still ensuring my conduct was inclusive? I was walking uncharted territory here.

To prepare for the conversation, I looked again at the sheet titled “Inclusion Is and Is Not” from the Be BIG workshop I attended several months ago. Some of the statements from the sheet stayed with me. I decided:

  • I should hear his side of the story.  He should be given a chance to share why he had behaved the way he did. It was necessary to allow input from the people affected.
  • I should clearly call out the implications if he were not to change his behavior. By doing so, I might be supporting him in doing his best work in the future. At the same time I would not have focused on the relationship to the degree that the task was less important or secondary.

I was now clear on the approach I should take. There was a way to make him feel included in a process which in all possibility would be uncomfortable for him.

We had a one-hour discussion the day after. Did I manage to convince him to change his behavior? Yes! Was his behavior change sustained? Over the past month, I have seen him sustain his improved behavior. Was I surprised? Yes, I was. Previous efforts at making him change had not yielded results. I had been forewarned I was taking on a tough case. 

Why did my approach work? I feel it worked because I was firm yet inclusive.

Sometimes a “difficult to get along with” colleague needs to experience inclusion before being able to practice inclusion. In this case, I helped him experience inclusion—even though it was a do-or-die situation!