How to Start a Conversation With a Toxic Employee on Your Team

Here's the Best Way to Start a Conversation With a Toxic Employee on Your Team

While your goal as an entrepreneur and business owner is always to surround yourself with talented, driven people, at some point you’re likely to encounter a toxic employee. Whether it’s bad attitudes, gossiping, poor work habits, or other toxic behavior, you may have to step in and have a conversation with a difficult co-worker. The better prepared you are for this conversation, the better.

You’ll need to be careful about how you start a conversation with a toxic coworker. Your approach will set the tone for everything that will come during the talk. Use these six steps to prepare and start that conversation out well.

1. Prepare ahead of time.

Whenever I have a conversation with a difficult co-worker or colleague, I do my research and spend time preparing. You should gather specific examples of the employee’s behavior or attitude that you want to change. And, think about the outcome that you want the conversation to have. You may want to plan out the steps you’ll take given a few different scenarios, including if the employee becomes belligerent or quits on the spot.

2. Outline the points you want to touch on.

To ensure the conversation stays on point, outline the specific points that you want to touch on and write them down if necessary. Try to frame the conversation so that you’re talking about how the employee’s actions are affecting the whole team. This is preferable to approaching the conversation by venting your personal thoughts on the employee’s performance or bad behavior.

3. Talk in private.

Only begin the conversation when you and the employee can speak in private. I look for a time when neither party has other commitments. This way you can take your time and discuss everything you need to talk about.

If you work in a busy work environment, make sure you find an area where you and the employee can talk without other employees overhearing. Reserving a conference room may be the best way to do this in an office where sound carries.

4. Show respect.

Frame the conversation in a way that you show respect to the toxic employee, but also be honest and direct. Specific examples of the employee’s behavior that you prepared earlier can help with this.

Depending on the circumstances that have led up to this conversation, you may wish to start the conversation by highlighting something that the employee does well. Then you can ease into the more negative aspects that need improvement. You’ll need to assess the situation and consider the employee’s personality when determining if this approach is appropriate.

Though the conversation may get heated, watch your own behavior. Keep your cool and remain professional.

5. Prepare for a reaction.

Your employee may react to the conversation in any number of ways. Be ready in case the employee gets defensive. He or she may verbally attack you in response, or try to bring up office politics. They may use examples of how other employees are behaving to justify their own actions. The employee may also completely deny being at fault in the situation and may state that none of your examples ever happened.

This conversation can stir up powerful emotions, so you may want to have it when you know that other people are nearby in the office. You may want to have human resources or even security available on standby just in case.

Regardless of the employee’s reactions, it’s important to remember the type of change you want this conversation to prompt. Stay firm in whatever requests you make.

6. Present a detailed plan.

To increase the chances of this conversation resulting in a positive change, present toxic people at the office with a plan consisting of specific, detailed steps. For instance, if you want an employee to be more of a team player, or truly work on improving work relationships, your plan should detail specifications in writing about what changes need to take place.

Have this plan ready in writing before your meeting, then go over it with the employee toward the end of the conversation. Both you and the employee should sign two copies of the plan so that you each can keep a signed copy. You may need to refer back to this plan during future conversations.

Starting a conversation with a toxic employee isn’t an activity that you’ll necessarily look forward to. But, with plenty of preparation you can enter the conversation feeling more confident and more focused on what you want the results to be.


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