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15 Jun 2023

How do I approach a conversation with a staff member who has a bad attitude?

How do I approach a conversation with a staff member who has a bad attitude?
One of my team has a really bad attitude problem – they’re quite negative and unwilling to help their colleagues out when needed. I need to have a conversation with them about it – but how would you suggest approaching the discussion?

It can be difficult to approach a conversation when the other party has a difficult attitude. It is important to have the conversation, and it may help to think of the conversation in three parts. 

First, consider what has happened, or is happening, that means the conversation needs to take place. Then, consider how everyone – both the company and the individuals involved – feel. And finally, consider the effects and impacts of the situation. 


You must make sure that you are prepared for the conversation. Beforehand, consider anything that you may need to prepare or bring. 

You may want to prepare a script that lays out what you are going to say, which means you can say everything in a clear way and helps you feel confident and in control of the conversation. 

Using recent, relevant, and specific examples of the employee’s conduct will foster a conversation focused on facts and improvement. You could bring examples of times where the team member has had a negative attitude to others at work or not helped out their colleagues. 

You could also bring any relevant policies or evidence, such as your conduct policy, and invite a witness. This witness shouldn’t be just anyone – an HR representative or a manager would be appropriate.

Leave emotions at the door

Difficult conversations with staff members can easily become emotionally charged and escalate to something inappropriate. Therefore, it is important to remember to leave emotions at the door and approach the conversation level-headed and open-minded, avoiding biased emotions. Making clear the expectations of communication in the meeting can help everyone remember to keep their emotions in check. 

If you have had a negative interaction previously with the staff member, it may be worth considering if you are the best person to have this conversation, as old prejudices between parties can heighten emotions. The conversation should stay on topic and be fact-based, not opinions- or emotion-based. 

If you are struggling to keep the conversation on this track, or either party is becoming emotional, pausing the conversation and rescheduling for another time may be the best course of action. 

Looking forward

Keeping a positive tone in the meeting is important, and so once the facts have been established, the best approach is to start discussing how the employee can improve. This should include talking about the improvement tools you can provide to help the staff member. 

Before the conversation, you should have considered your ideal outcome. After the discussions have taken place, you then have the opportunity to develop an action plan together on how to best move forward toward this ideal outcome. This should be documented and shared with everyone in the meeting, so everyone can understand, reflect and be on the same page.

Moving on

Following the conversation, you should loop back and review the situation. It may be appropriate for this to be more informal than the previous conversation, and it is important to be able to provide feedback and reiterate support and expectations during this time. 


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