Aggressive high performer
"Why be so rude? "--Manager
Displays of negative emotion
Andy was a high performing member of a sales team. He regularly indulged in outward displays of anger and frustration with others when discussing work issues with his colleagues. Andy's manager could see he was intimidating the rest of the team. Andy was a highly talented salesperson and brought in a lot of high value clients. However, the damage he was causing to team cohesion and morale was also costing the business.
Andy's manager had some very direct conversations with Andy asking him to be less aggressive and to refrain from showing annoyance when talking with his colleagues. Andy initially was defensive saying that he preferred being direct and straightforward rather than fake. His boss kept insisting on the point and Andy begrudgingly agreed. However, his outward expressions of exasperation and annoyance continued.
The communication gap
Using judgmental language to describe his behaviour, such as "aggressive" and "showing annoyance" provoked defensiveness in Andy. Furthermore, Andy didn't see his behaviour as a problem and his manager hadn't been able to explain why.
We suggested Andy's manager have the following conversation with Andy:
I'd like to discuss how to achieve effective communications with the team. I've noticed you roll your eyes and sigh when people ask you questions, and sometimes you respond in a loud tone of voice. This may cause people to feel unsettled, be less receptive to what you're saying and unwilling to say what they think. When issues are discussed in a calm tone of voice with a neutral manner, people are more likely to feel comfortable and be able to think more clearly and engage in the discussion most effectively. What do you think?
As a result of this conversation with his manager, Andy was able to understand the impact of his emoting on his colleagues. Andy wanted to have more effective discussions, it was one of his roots of frustrations that people weren't more up-front about what they were thinking. He didn't realize that his behaviour was actually making it harder for people to engage in the direct and straightforward way that he preferred.
Often people share a common goal, they just don't see the same path to the goal. Andy and his manager wanted the same thing. They both wanted the team to have effective discussions about various work issues with the team where people were willing to say directly and straightforwardly what they thought. Also, it's important to be able to describe behaviours specifically and objectively to minimize defensive reactions and also be clear that all parties are clear about exactly what aspect of the behaviour is problematic.
*Due to the sensitive nature of our case studies, names and details have been changed to be anonymous.