Dealing with Villains in the Workplace

AARC Career News Dana EvansDana Evans is the manager of the respiratory care department at Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, MO.

By Dana Evans, MHA, RRT-NPS

Conflict management skills are a vital tool for the workplace. Whether you are a leader engaging with disruptive employees or a staff member addressing issues with your co-workers, conflict management is needed to maintain harmonious and effective relationships within the team.

Identifying Villains in the Workplace

Common disruptive personalities (in no particular order):

  • Bullies
  • Gossips/Backstabbers
  • Negative Nellies
  • Slackers
  • Complainers/Whiners
  • Meeting Monopolizers


Dealing with “Villains” in the Workplace

Once you have decided to address the disruptive behavior of a co-worker or employee, you should spend some time planning the conversation. The way a message is crafted and the words you use can be the difference between improving the situation and making it worse. Here are some quick tips for addressing disruptive behavior:

  1. Pick your battles: Not all transgressions need to be addressed. We all have bad days and will not be at our best at all times. You must decide if the person/behavior should be confronted.
  2. Timing and location: Do not pull the employee into your office during a busy time of day or confront him in front of other co-workers. Ask, “Is this a good time to talk?” and if not, consider setting up a time that will work for both of you. This conversation should take place in private to avoid humiliating the person (which could make YOU the bully). If the talk must occur now (for example, if HR is involved) you may consider getting another team member to take over the person’s patients.
  3. “You” is a dirty word: Avoid beginning the conversation with the word “you.” (“You are a negative person” or “You do not complete all of your assignment.”) A person’s gut response to this type of statement is to defend herself. It will make it harder for her to hear what you are saying.
  4. “I” is better: Begin with “I” phrases and express how the behavior makes you (or your team) feel. People have a tendency to deny that they have done something as a defense mechanism, but they cannot deny how they made you feel. (“When I heard that you were talking about me with the nurses, it hurt my feelings.” Or “I felt frustrated when I heard you take credit for my work.”)
  5. Avoid absolutes such as “always” or “never”: When you use absolutes (“You always need help to complete your patient assessments”), the person will focus on the one time he DID (or DID NOT) do it. It puts him on the defensive, as he attempts to prove he is not at fault by citing the time he did the right thing. When possible, focus on specific events (including dates).
  6. LISTEN: Once you have shared the issue, allow the individual the opportunity to respond and LISTEN to her. This is important — people need to feel heard. You must remain calm, focused, and patient. It is possible she has a point of view you did not expect, or were not aware of.
  7. Offer a solution or compromise: Once he has had a chance to share his side of things, it is time to share your expectation of future behavior. For example: “In the future, I would appreciate it if you did not speak about me with others. Can we agree to show respect for one another?”
  8. Share the consequences for not changing: If you are a leader, you should clearly state the consequences of continuing the disruptive behavior (which may include corrective action).

Be a Conflict Resolution Superhero!

Dana Evans is manager of the respiratory care department at Mercy Children’s Hospital in St. Louis, MO. She first addressed this topic in a lecture at AARC Congress 2015 in Tampa, FL, last November.

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