Leadership Uncertainty: How to See Truth About Employee People Skills

Leaders, how can you overcome your leadership uncertainty about an employee’s poor people skills? If that question puzzles you, picture an employee with poor people skills and the teammates, customers, and even your leadership colleagues don’t want to work with that employee. You have even said to yourself, this one is really bad. Yet, you do nothing. Why? Well here is one such story — a true story — and how I coached the leader to overcome his leadership uncertainty and take action.

Leadership Uncertainty: Image is surfer on board in rough waters.

How to Overcome Leadership Uncertainty About Employee’s Poor People Skills. Image by MoonJazz via Flickr Creative Commons License.

Image by MoonJazz via Flickr Creative Commons License.

How to Overcome Leadership Uncertainty About Employee Poor People Skills

The True Story

An employee in Technical Support had horrible people skills. He was rude, loud, highly opinionated, and even insulting. Everyone could see it. The customers began to say keep him away from us. “He is not clear, courteous, nor understanding. On top of that he doesn’t listen and respond in a timely manner. We do not want to work with him.”

Your Reaction to This Description

Now ask yourself, what is your reaction to this story? Would you feel torn about what to do? Or do you already know, definitely, what you would do?

Well when the leader told me this story, he followed it up by saying, “but the employee …”

  • Is a good guy. Oh really? I asked him how he was assessing that.

  • Shows up early and works hard. Well what does that have to do with not working well with others?

  • Doesn’t want to be living in this state. He just got back from a vacation in Alaska and told customers he would prefer to be there than here. I highlighted that the employee needs to treat people well where he is working. If he wants to relocate, that is a separate issue.

How to Overcome Leadership Uncertainty

This story and the leader’s reaction is a short one but extremely common. Many leaders waffle over addressing employees’ poor people skills. Don’t get trapped. Overcome your uncertainty with these steps.

  1. Write down the workplace and business impact of poor people skills. For example, customers saying “keep him away from us” is not just a complaint. It is a tangible business problem and has impact. When you write down the impact, it makes your path clearer. Remember as well that poor people skills affect teamwork and morale. This too has a business impact.

  2. Answer the following question: Do you believe people can change their behavior? If you say no, that may be what is causing your uncertainty. By the way, the answer is yes. Anyone can learn good people skills — if they want to.

  3. Note your answer to this question: Are people skills and working well with others as important as the skills to complete a task? If you answer yes, then there is no reason to hesitate with this employee.

Now, Address This Employee’s Poor People Skills!

  • Sit with the employee and discuss how they are coming across to others. Use tangible examples. Don’t accuse. Simply tell the employee what skill level is expected and where their skill level currently is. Then ask them if they are willing to take training to close that gap. If they get defensive when you ask that question, they are telling you that they are not willing. You are offering them a development opportunity. Employees who are willing to develop their skills would say YES to this question.

  • If they do say yes, they there is hope. If you are concerned that they may just be saying yes to put you off temporarily, don’t worry. You will know if they are serious through the results of the training.

  • Make it Active or Don’t Bother

  • Make sure the training is designed as active engagement. Stay away from automated online people skills courses that show videos and give quizzes about “what should you do in this case?” In person training — public or on-site at your company — yield behavior change. If you do choose to send the employee with very poor people skills to a public class, consider going with them. It shows the employee just how important it is and gives you specifics for follow-up back at work.

What to Do After Training

Sit with the employee again and find out if they are clear on how to proceed. Use the examples that you used when you first discussed how their skills needed to change. Ask them in each example how they would change their behavior now. This post-training step helps convert training into real-time actions back at work. Let them know when you will meet again.

If their behavior does not change significantly, then let them know what the impact will be. Check with your Human Resources department to follow all company guidelines on what to do when an employee’s skills do not improve and any rules about terminating an employee.

Above all, remember that your leadership uncertainty will not help this employee nor the teammates nor the customers. Conversely, your fair yet clear actions in addressing poor people skills will help everyone!

What additional questions do you have and/or suggestions?

From my professional experience to your success,
Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™

Checklist: Are You Someone Others Want to Work With?
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©2021 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. I appreciate your sharing the link to this post on your social streams. However, if you want to re-post or republish the content of this post, please email info@katenasser.com for permission and guidelines. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People Skills Coach™, delivers coaching, consulting, training, and keynotes on leading change, employee engagement, teamwork, and delivering the ultimate customer service. She turns interaction obstacles into interpersonal success. See this site for workshop outlines, keynote footage, and customer results.

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