• canibarro

3 Step Conversation When Dealing with Toxic Employees

Dealing with disengaged staff can be no fun. But dealing with a toxic team member sucks. I spend about 30 minutes talking about this subject on my latest podcast (and 3 minutes talking about it on my video series My Take).

I always say take a 3-step approach to dealing with toxic employees: Illuminate, Isolate, Congregate. Illuminate tends to be the toughest because it involves taking a stand. Let me explain.


Make sure to create an opportunity to have a candid conversation with this person. If possible, don't meet with this person alone. Make the meeting discrete, and document, document, document.

Don't start by acknowledging accomplishments or thanking them for their contribution to your team. You can get to that later. Start by setting the tone. "I am meeting with you because I have some concerns that I need to talk through with you." It's useful to be direct and matter-of-fact. I always practice stating some truths before I practice how I want the meeting to go. Why? Because tone matters.

I'll practice saying things like, "The sky is blue. The grass is green. I am meeting with you because..." It helps me get the right tone. I don't want to be stern, pissed, condescending, apologetic, polite. I want to be matter-of-fact.

After you've set the tone & purpose for the conversation, be ready to frame your communication. I use a 3-part frame:

1. Here is what I'm seeing/hearing happening...

(be clear... create a behavioral gap between what they are saying/doing and what you expect)

2. The impact it is having on me/the team/our partners/our customers is...

(be clear about the physical, emotional, behavioral, monetary, etc impact the behavior is creating)

3. Here is what I want to see in the next 30/60/90 days...

(be clear about how you want them to show up/take action over a defined period of time)

This conversation is never the highlight of my day.

Here's the deal, you are taking a stand for your team. You believe in them being able to live their mission on your team, so you are taking a stand for integrity with this person.

You are taking a stand for this person. They have a choice. You are holding up a mirror for them to choose how they want to be. Even if they leave, you are being a contribution by supporting them to make better choices about how to hold relationships, perspective on situations, and their own personal power. They won't thank you... but taking that position leaves you coming from a place of grace instead of being punitive.

You are taking a stand for yourself. Your job isn't to make friends or be liked. It's to create impact and build connections. Your team will grow to the extent you do, and this is a growth opportunity. Take it.

It's okay if they don't see things the way you (or your team) does. That's not the outcome you are striving for. In fact, they will probably turn things around on why they are a victim. Remember, the gift you are giving is reminding them they have an ability to choose; to choose how to show up despite what is happening or what is not going their way. Also, you are setting yourself and your organization up for the possibility of helping them exit gracefully. So be true to your values.

This post isn't legal advice, but I hope it helps give you a frame to see yourself in this conversation and how to script the conversation as well.