There they are again – the training participant or team member who sits and sulks. It’s clear they don’t want to be there. They slouch. They don’t follow along with the materials/agenda. They don’t engage, ask questions or contribute to the discussion. They wear a permanent frown. They keep their eyes focused on the floor. While work goes on, they sit and read a magazine, or quietly text or surf the internet. Few people want to receive the surly response by suggesting that they stop this disruptive behavior.
This is the employee that has learned that they can get their way by sulking, whining, and threatening. Yes – it looks childish and is annoying to have to deal with when working with adults. I’m probably not going to change the behavior in the grand scheme of things and neither are you. But what we can do is teach these folks that we will not be manipulated when they use these tactics.
There are some options for responding to this manipulative behavior:
- Ignore it
- Get rid of them
- Let them have it, or
- Have a difficult conversation.
While each option has some consequences. I like the idea of, straightforward, open and honest conversation. Here is how the that might look:
1. Prepare. Make a few notes about the situation and include some specific examples of the unacceptable behavior that you observed, as well as how you felt when those things happened. Include what you’d like to see and ideas about how you might get there.
2. Meeting. Arrange a time when you are both relaxed and able to focus on this. You want to give this conversation the time and energy it will require.
3. Candor. This conversation is not about blame. Do not point fingers of culpability. Focus not on the person but on the behavior and the impact it has on you, the team, the class, and/or the organization.
4. Listen. Really listen. Be curious about what is motivating them to behave this way. You may learn that the behavior has nothing to do with you. These could be behaviors they have been using for quite a while. It may result is progress and it may result in no forward movement at all. They may not be able to have this kind of a conversation and if those are the limits, you will have to figure out what you want to do next.
5. Identify the emotions. People who sulk often see themselves as victims and not as offenders. This kind of behavior is sometimes a response to feeling discounted or disrespected. I’ve had sulking training participants tell me they are furious that they were sent to training, don’t think they need any development and that the boss never told them why they were being sent. The person may have been treated poorly in the past and now they are on the offensive, with free-floating anger that has no connection to the current situation. There are times that defining the emotion provides a way to talk things through to a positive resolution. Together you may be able to figure out a solution.
6. Follow-up. Follow-up, and then follow-up. Professional relationships are on-going and often need continuous support and fine-tuning.
I have had these conversations before, after, and during training /meetings. I’ve offered a bargain to the magazine reader: if you haven’t learned anything by noon, you can leave. I’ve requested that the internet surfer sit in the back of the room. I’ve suggested that the texter call their boss and explain why they will not be attending. I’ve asked bosses to make sure people know the purpose of their attendance so that while they may not like the fact that they must attend, they understand the reason for it. Sometimes people have a hard time getting out of their own way.
You can help clear their path.