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Stepwise discussion part 1

Stepwise procedure

Solving behavioural problems needs a methodical approach.
Jumping around with theories, trying out random solutions and seeing what happens is unlikely to work and will only create confusion and frustration and may lead to lowering motivation.

A methodical approach allows you to consider all possibilities against a checklist.
Once this list has been exhausted your options for resolving the behavioural issue start to become limited.

Having established that the person can do the job you may have to consider moving or replacing the person.
This is the ultimate sanction.
Moving staff has its problems as you will still need to find a replacement.
Also, who is to say that you’re not just shifting the problem elsewhere.

If you fire the person you will have to replace them anyway which is costly and time consuming.
So, you need to give yourself one more chance to solve the issue.

This should be approached in a stepwise manner.

Step 1


It is important to treat any face to face discussion as though it were an appraisal.
Remember, this is a serious talk trying to modify behaviour before they may be sacked.

  • Avoid any interruptions. Turn off mobile phones, hold and reroute other calls. If you have a secretary get them to deflect all interruptions.
  • Make sure the area has no other distractions, for example, excessive traffic noise.
  • Arrange for a private area for the discussion preferably on neutral ground.
  • Allow plenty of time. Putting a fixed time limit may be detrimental to competing the discussion successfully.
  • Be very clear about the behaviour that is in question. Don’t be vague. Have this in place before the meeting.
  • Have any data to hand, that you have checked, in support of your concerns.
  • You must be able to make it clear that only a change in the person’s behaviour will solve the problem.
  • Your own emotions must be under control before starting the meeting.
  • Before you begin you must have an idea of the minimum behaviour change you wish to see and options that you may be willing to discuss to get the person to modify their behaviour. You must identify a time frame for improvement. Fix a review date.
  • Identify all of the detrimental affects on the organisation as a result of poor behaviour. Then list the possible negative consequences to the individual if he or she ultimately fails to recognise the problem.

It’s a good idea to draw up a simple document so that you can fill in all the information you need prior to the meeting.

Step 2

Get agreement that a problem exists

This step is very crucial. Before you can agree any corrective behaviour the individual must admit there is a problem.
Please note the word ‘problem’.
Many people may be aware that their behaviour is wrong but they don’t think it is a problem.
That is, until they are told it is a problem.

We must get the individual to admit that there is a problem by getting them to say so.
It’s not good enough to suggest there is a problem and they just say ‘yes’ you must get them to refer to the problem.

This is another opportunity for the use of ‘thought transfer’ (see Communication - part 1).
By asking suitable questions the individual should be able to admit the existence of the problem personally.

The person must recognise:

  • That their actions (or inactions) have a detrimental affect on the organisation, or
  • There will be negative consequence to the individual if there is no change in their performance

The majority of people will recognise there is a problem when faced with the affect on the organisation.
The few that don’t will recognise there is a problem when they are aware of potential personal consequences.

People usually do what seems logical to them at the time given the available choice of behaviours.
The person’s motivation is driven by the consequences of the behaviour as he or she sees it.

Hence, as part of the preparation step identify all of the detrimental affects in the first part list the possible negative consequences to the individual.

Remember that many of the rules that exist are not yours to bend as you please but yours to enforce.

Earlier we mentioned the use of ‘thought transmission’ techniques to get the person to admit, in his or her own words, that there was in fact a problem.

Once you have verbal agreement that the problem exists you can stop and go onto the next step.
But first you need to get it.

Let us say you have an employee who has been getting reports in late.
You may begin with:

You:             “Are you aware none of your reports arrive on time?”
Employee:    “No, I like to make sure they are correct and wasn’t aware there was a time limit.”
You:            “Yes there is. We have a policy of distribution within 1 week of a meeting. What do you think the affects may be of receiving reports late?”
Employee:    “If we don’t get them on time it can hold up vital decision making. I’m sorry, I thought they were just being used for archive records.”
You:             “Do you think this is a problem or not?”
Employee:    “I can see this could be a problem.”

Basically, you are trying to get the person to consider the issues and therefore see a problem which previously didn’t exist as far as he or she was concerned.
This form of thought transmission is slightly looser than just giving two options to choose from.

When you carry out your discussion don’t get drawn into any adverse or implied comments.
Keep calm and focus on asking questions.

If the person can’t see the affect on the organisation, or those within it, you will need to modify your tactics.
You will have to point out that a change in behaviour is required or there may be negative consequences to the individual.
Again, try an get the person to talk about the potential sanctions you may employ which will bring them home.

Don’t forget the power of silence to get people to speak.
Motivation to speak can be very high during a silent period.

Always remember that you are having this face to face stepwise private discussion because you have been through your checklist for other causes of the poor performance. So, if you have already agreed a plan of action make sure that you follow it up regularly with positive reinforcement and don’t wait until a deadline is reached. By the time you get to a deadline (could be months) the person may have already reverted to old behaviours owing to a lack of positive reinforcement.


If the individual fails in the first part above to recognise there is a problem having assessed the affect on the organisation, you may have to refer to a list of potential sanctions (negative consequences) if the person does not modify his or her behaviour.

These may be:

  • Loss of bonuses
  • A poor appraisal
  • Reduced opportunity for promotions
  • No pay rise
  • Less interesting and demanding assignments
  • A transfer or demotion
  • Being fired etc.

You might wish to put these in some sort of order of severity.
Watch out as some of them may actually be a positive reinforcement for their poor behaviour.

We have mentioned that many people are unaware that their behaviour is a problem.
Some reasons for continuingly choosing illogical behaviours could be:

  • They are truly unaware of any negative consequences
  • They believe they can get away with it
  • They believe they have no other choices to turn to

It is important under this step to identify a complete list of adverse consequences.
There is no point in just saying, “You could be sacked” and ending it there.
You would be assuming that this is the consequence that triggers agreement of a problem and a change in behaviour.
It is important to generate a complete list so that the individual is aware of a broad spectrum of negative consequences which is more likely to gain modifications in behaviour.

There is also the possibility of mental health problems to consider.