Never before had I left a training program worrying a participant might slash my tires.
But that was what I feared after presenting a class on interpersonal skills and how to communicate with difficult people.
The manager who hired me approached as I entered the room.
She whispered, “There will be a lady in your class today who is a real challenge. It won’t take you long to figure out who she is. I hope you can say something to change her behavior with co-workers.”
And she was right. Sitting near the front was a woman who couldn’t hide her unhappiness at having to be in this class. Her expressions were pure contempt.
She rolled her eyes continuously, laughed sarcastically and put on a side show that distracted all 50 people in the room.
At one point, we discussed how to handle people with strong personality styles and difficult behaviors with candor, coaching and courtesy. She snorted and rolled her eyes again. It was the perfect time to show the class and her manager how to handle the situation.
I looked at her. “You, for instance, may have a strong personality style, but my guess is you also have the backbone to handle candid feedback. Your eye rolling, snorting and dismissive behaviors are distracting everyone in the class.”
Crickets. Her face turned red. She sat quietly for the rest of the class, but if looks could kill.
Once the class was over, everyone but the lady with daggers in her eyes and her manager headed directly for the door. I listened calmly to the lambasting as her supervisor watched from the other side of the room. Then I said, “When you rolled your eyes and snorted it felt very disrespectful to me, your co-workers and your manager. Your behaviors were disrupting the class. I wanted you to realize the impact you were having on us all.”
She stormed from the room and I made a mental note to check my tires.
Her supervisor was visibly nervous. “Can you give me some tips on how to handle her? I’ve tried everything but, well, you can see how she is.”
“You’ve got two choices. Ignore her behaviors and they may get worse over time. You’ll lose good people who won’t want to put up with her and she’ll reflect poorly on your ability to manage. Or, you can document her behaviors and put her on a performance plan. Be clear about expectations, coach her on specific instances and give her positive feedback if you notice improvement. Otherwise, help her ‘self select’ to move on to another job or let her go.”
Over the years I’ve wondered if I handled it correctly. Should I have called for a break and taken her outside the room for a private coaching moment? Would it have made any difference? Or should I have ignored her behaviors?
Let me know what you think in the comments below.
P.S. My tires were fine.