Managers: Wear Grievance as a Badge of Honour

I hadn't been promoted very long, when I had cause to have a performance conversation with an employee. A colleague was running a series of workshops for salespeople internally and they called me to let me know that one of the salespeople in my team was turning up late and not doing the required work between workshops.

So, I called them into my office instead of attending the course to discuss what was going on. I wanted to discover why it was so difficult for this employee to turn up on time to training sessions & do the work required prior to attendance.

I wasn't expecting a great conversation, however I didn't expect what followed next.

The salesperson arrived at my office highly charged with emotion and nearly took the door off it's hinges!

"How dare you!" they shouted. "How dare you summon me to your office like a child!"

I offered them a seat to discuss what was a going on, but they refused and continued to shout a long list of grievances at me.

For the next few minutes I made notes and waited for the storm to blow itself out. The moment came when they started to repeat themselves, so I interrupted them and offered a seat again, which they took.

I then backtracked their statements and offered my view on their grievances as calmly as I could. They were still very angry, so I offered them the opportunity to call my boss and raise a formal grievance against me with him. They declined this offer, however I made it clear that they could take this further at any time.

They were taken by surprise that I wasn't at all upset by their approach to me, perhaps expecting me to apologise or retreat. In effect, I had called their bluff. My guess is they were used to the previous manager backing off when a problem arises with their performance.

Please note:

I was calm and curious, not angry looking for answers and blame

I was open to listening to them without judging them

Many managers faced with a difficult conversation become engulfed in the emotional aspects of the relationship and negotiating a difficult conversation. This is counterproductive & unhelpful to the employee.

Employees that are passionate about their work can come across as aggressive, however there is a big difference between passion and aggression when dealing with performance issues.

Passionate people want to learn, even though it is uncomfortable for them.

Aggressive people just want what they want when they want it.

The meeting did not go well for this person, because they hadn't thought through everything they told me and they had started to dig themselves into a hole regarding their work performance as a result. Those notes were invaluable to me in this instance and it is a habit I wish more managers would take up.

Staff often know their managers better than the managers know themselves where it comes to handling conflict. They will know if you are someone who is uncomfortable with conflict.

As a manager, have you ever faced an aggressive employee who wants to take you through a grievance procedure because you are disciplining them? Many managers, faced with an aggressive employee will back down because of time and the hassle of dealing with such issues. Many managers, faced with aggressive behaviour like this would rather avoid or smooth over the conflict.

Aggressive employees will use their colour, religion or even a disability to get you to back away. They will say that you are picking on them, that you are being unfair to them and that you should back off.

If you have someone who is manipulating you in this way then:

I say: Wear Grievance as a Badge of Honour.


Because this is probably a tactic that they have used before and was successful because previous managers have decided that the time and trouble is just not worth it.

This is an opportunity for you to show courage by standing your ground.

You can be confident because you treat everyone equally and have written proof to back this up. I'm talking about any instances where you have spoken to people about their performance, including the more formal performance management process itself.

You won't be able to stand your ground if you are treating performance conversations informally, as many busy managers do. Busy managers treat performance conversations informally because of time and habit.

The golden rule is:

If you don't communicate outcomes of meetings in writing, it never happened."

If this is you, make it a habit to confirm conversation outcomes in an email. This doesn't take too much time. Once done, you now have a record of the conversation which could be used as evidence that you have spoken to this person about this behaviour or work performance issue on more than one occasion.

If you would like a no- commitment conversation about motivating your team so that everyone can be at their authentic best, contact me on:

Have your best week ever


Mervyn is a keynote speaker, international trainer and coach with over 20 year experience delivering workshops and interventions across many market sectors and cultures.

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