A Manager’s People Skills Dilemma – What Would You Do?

Corporate practice traditionally teaches managers to praise in public and correct in private. When it is about an individual’s work performance, it makes sense.

When it is about handling patronizing, demeaning, or abusive people skills behavior of one co-worker toward others, managers and supervisors face a dilemma.

People-Skills Dilemma

Manager's People Skills Dilemma - Whose Dignity? Image by:Istock

Do you offer the dignity of private correction to a worker who has demeaned other co-workers in public as in a meeting?


Do you handle it at that moment in front of those affected to afford respect to the co-workers and preserve morale needed for the work?


Do you expect the co-workers to speak up and handle the situation if they are offended?

Dilemma: Whose dignity and whose responsibility?

Managers, before you make a decision, consider:

  1. What will be the impact on the current interaction and work?
  2. What will be the impact on morale and future teamwork? Many overlook this question and focus purely on the current work.
  3. Are the co-workers truly empowered and skilled at responding to this honestly and appropriately?
  4. If the co-workers say nothing, it doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not offended. How productive will they be in current or future settings if they silently fume over the insult?

I have heard many say that it is still appropriate to offer the correction in private
because it minimizes the perpetrator’s embarrassment and makes it easier to change behavior.

An absolute rule like this in today’s diverse workplace seems short sided and ill-fated.
Knowing your team, training them on honest respectful communication, and being ready to correct or facilitate will prepare you to handle this well.

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

What do you think? What other factors would you consider in this dilemma?

©2011 Kate Nasser, CAS, Inc. Somerville, NJ. If you want to re-post or republish this post, please email info@katenasser.com. Thank you for respecting intellectual capital.

Kate Nasser, The People-Skills Coach, has helped thousands of leaders, managers, and supervisors turn interaction obstacles into business success. See this site for teamwork session outlines, customer feedback, and footage to view.

4 Responses to “A Manager’s People Skills Dilemma – What Would You Do?”

  1. Aileen says:

    Hi Kate.
    This is a really good question. Personally, if someone has stepped up and insulted/demeaned another I would do a bit of all of the above.

    First in the meeting itself, I would state blandly that whatever comment was uncalled for and please come see me after the meeting. After the meeting, I would talk to the person and tell them I expect them to apologize to the individual(s) and to sort out their differences like adults. I would also let the person know I would be following up on that.

    Then I would also follow up with the person that was demeaned. To ensure the issue was truly resolved by the offender, and to also coach that person (if needed) on how to speak up for themselves.

    When I have conflicts at work now, I do talk to the people or person privately, but I let them know in no uncertain terms that I expect them to behave like adults and be able to correct most* inter relational problems themselves. After all, I am not their mother. 🙂

    This has worked fairly well for our group, we have no turn over to speak of really and the few squabbles that have come up with the persons involved being made to sort things out themselves (most of the time) the air is usually kept fairly clear. It’s when it goes into deeper problems that things can get a lot more iffy.

  2. Liz Weber says:

    Hi Kate – It can and should be addressed right away. As the leader, if you’ve done you’re job right, there are some basic “team rules” you will have either specifically created or which have evolved over time. One of those rules should be ensuring mutual respect among team members. As the leader, when one of your team members then crosses the line, instead of cringing and waiting to discuss the gaff in private, speak up: “Kelly, that comment crossed the line in respecting all team members and their opinions. Let’s all keep our team rules in mind so we maintain our team environment and everyone feels comfortable sharing ideas and contrary opinions.” Then, go back to the discussion at hand. Leaders don’t wait to address a lack of respect.

    • Kate Nasser says:

      I tend to agree with your approach Liz. Surprisingly, I find this topic to be one of the most debated among managers, leaders and even consultants. I think the sooner the better — especially if you have established some team rules of respect. When left to fester, it can destroy morale.

  3. Hi Kate,

    Rather than trying to find a one-size fits all approach to handling such interaction among your team members, I think a more important approach managers should take is to remind themselves of what the goal is behind their intervention. Namely, to draw attention to the offender regarding their behaviour and to also make other team members aware that you won’t tolerate such disrespectful behaviour on your watch.

    As these are two separate points, they need to be addressed separately so that 1) the offender appreciates how their words/behaviour are negatively impacting others (it’s counter-productive to go into such situations assuming that the person knows how damaging their behaviour is to others) and clear measures are agreed upon between the offender and the manager on how they can put a stop to such conduct and 2) that other team members have a clear impression that their manager is not only aware of these transgressions, but has made efforts to ensure something is being done to put a stop to it. Those affected by these transgressions don’t need to know what was done, only that measures were taken to put an end to such behaviour.

    By separating these two elements, managers will have a far easier time not only ensuring that all parties are treated with respect, but that any negative or undesired behaviours are dealt with in a manner that allows for employees to take ownership of their actions from the lens of positive development and growth.

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